Water Works: Using Subsurface Drip Irrigation in Alfalfa Production

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In today’s Water Works, brought to you by AquiMax, employing subsurface drip irrigation systems in the production of alfalfa is proving beneficial in University of California field trials at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.  Researchers have found that subsurface drip can provide a boost to overall yields.  In some instances, increases have been as high as 30 percent.  Subsurface drip can also help alfalfa growers reduce the amount of water they are using when compared to other irrigation techniques.Subsurface Drip Irrigation

“You’re delivering water right to the root system, you can recharge a field within a matter of a day or two,” said Statewide Alfalfa and Forage Extension Specialist Dan Putnam.  “With many systems, particularly surface irrigation systems, it takes you days or even a week to irrigate an entire field.”

Subsurface drip irrigation systems can also assist growers to fine-tune their water needs, which also helps reduce overall water usage while benefitting crop health.  “You can follow the needs of the crop.  For example, if one week you need three inches of water you can apply three inches of water, which often times you can’t do with other systems,” Putnam noted.

The use of subsurface irrigation is not without its own set of challenges, however.  The cost of subsurface drip can be substantially more when compared to other irrigation methods, such as gravity-fed systems.  Another issue that can be costly is damage to the irrigation lines caused by rodents.

“Alfalfa is really an ideal habitat for gophers and other kinds of rodents, and this has really been the bane of those people who have tackled drip irrigation in alfalfa.  You really have to take a no-holds-barred control measure for gopher management in the case of alfalfa with drip irrigation,” said Putnam.  “I would recommend that growers really take a very concentrated view of gopher management if they’re going to tackle drip irrigation.”


Listen to Putnam’s interview below.