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New Irrigation Techniques Can Reduce Water Usage While Increasing Yield

As the world’s population continues to grow, feeding everyone is becoming an increasingly difficult challenge. At the same time, climate change and water scarcity threaten to reduce crop yields in many parts of the world. Farmers and agricultural scientists are looking for ways to grow more food with less water to address these issues. Developing and utilizing new irrigation techniques that increase efficiency and reduce waste is a key strategy for sustainably intensifying agricultural production. This article will examine six promising new irrigation methods that have the potential to reduce water usage while boosting yields significantly.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation, also known as micro-irrigation, is a system where small pipes or tubes deliver water directly to the base of each plant. The water slowly drips or trickles out right where it is needed, minimizing evaporation and runoff. Studies show drip irrigation can use 20-50% less water than conventional flood or furrow irrigation. The precise application of water and nutrients also leads to healthier plants and higher yields. Drip irrigation suits most row crops, tree crops, and vineyards.

The initial investment in equipment may be higher than in some systems, but drip irrigation offers impressive long-term water savings. With concerns over water scarcity rising, drip irrigation is an increasingly popular choice worldwide. Farmers are seeing excellent results by installing drip irrigation in orchard crops like mangoes, citrus, and coconuts and for growing vegetables like tomatoes, chili peppers, and eggplants. The regular, slow application of water and nutrients directly to the roots consistently produces higher fruit quality and crop productivity than other irrigation methods.

Low Energy Precision Application (LEPA)

LEPA is an overhead sprinkler system that uses drop hoses to deliver water to the soil surface. The stream of water is broken into large droplets by a special spreader nozzle at the end of the hose, preventing evaporation and wind drift losses. LEPA systems use at least 20% less water compared to regular sprinklers. They also avoid wetting the plant’s leaves and stems, reducing the risk of fungal diseases.

LEPA irrigation can be adapted for many field crops where drip irrigation isn’t practical. It is widely used for cotton, sorghum, wheat, soybeans and corn. Growers using LEPA may increase yields while pumping less water from wells or rivers. In places like Texas and Kansas, farmers are getting higher corn and winter wheat productivity with LEPA systems than other sprinkler methods. The drop hoses apply the water precisely, minimizing losses while fully meeting crop water needs.

Alternate Wetting and Drying for Rice

Flooded paddies require up to twice as much water to grow rice as other cereals. Fresh water supplies are under severe strain in Asia, where 90% of the world’s rice is grown. Alternate wetting and drying (AWD) can slash water use by 25-50% with minimal yield impact. Fields are left to dry for a number of days before being re-flooded. Allowing the soil to dry intermittently curbs unproductive water losses while still providing enough moisture at critical growth stages.

AWD also improves root development and suppresses greenhouse gases. This simple but effective technique enabled Nepal to improve national rice production while reducing irrigation demands. Improving water efficiency through practices like AWD will be vital to boost rice productivity as demand increases. Field trials in India demonstrated that alternate wetting and drying irrigation helped farmers boost rice yields by over 20% compared to traditional continuous flooding, showcasing its potential for sustainably increasing rice yield.

Automatic Irrigation Scheduling and Sensors

Getting the right amount of water to crops at the right time is crucial for productivity and water-use efficiency. Automated irrigation scheduling and sensors help take the guesswork out of when and how much to irrigate. Soil moisture sensors measure the water content in the root zone and trigger irrigation systems to turn on or off based on crop needs. Weather stations monitor rainfall, temperature, evaporation rates and other variables to determine irrigation requirements.

Special computer programs can combine these data streams to create custom schedules tailored to specific fields and crops. As the cost of sensors and data networks declines, automated irrigation scheduling will play an expanding role in wisely using every drop of water. For example, strawberry farmers in Florida found sensors help them maintain optimal soil moisture while reducing water use by up to 30%. The advanced sensors detect exactly when the crop requires irrigation, preventing losses.

Surge Irrigation

With traditional surface irrigation methods like furrows, water must flow across the entire length of the field. Much of the water infiltrates the soil near the head of the field, while the end remains dry. Surge irrigation improves uniformity by intermittently applying water in short pulses along furrowed fields. This wets the furrows more evenly, reducing waste and enhancing crop productivity.

A surge valve turns the flow on and off in planned intervals. Surge irrigation can achieve high water savings and yield gains in row crops, vegetables, orchards and vineyards. It works best on moderately permeable soils with laser-leveled fields. Proper design and management are essential to prevent issues like erosion. Surge irrigation is allowing farmers in arid regions to achieve higher yields of almonds, pistachios and grapes while using up to 25% less water compared to traditional surface irrigation.

Deficit Irrigation

Deficit irrigation is the strategy of intentionally providing less water than evaporative demand. Mild water stress is deliberately induced at certain growth stages to control vegetative vigor and improve fruit quality without significantly reducing yields. For example, deficits when setting flowers and fruits cause minimal loss in productivity while increasing sugar content. Water stress during maturity can accelerate and improve ripening.

Deficit irrigation takes advantage of the fact that crops can tolerate minor droughts with little negative effect at specific times. Overall water use declines compared to keeping the soil wet year-round. This approach is gaining interest in high-value fruits, nuts, and vineyards where flavor is paramount. California almond growers use regulated deficit irrigation to reduce water applications while maintaining high kernel quality and profitable yields.


With burgeoning populations and heightened drought risks, the world needs more food with less water. Modern irrigation technologies that precisely apply water enable higher yields while slashing usage. Drip, LEPA, sensors, surge, and deficit irrigation can all sustainably intensify production. Rice farmers should implement alternate wetting and drying to produce more with less water. Improving agricultural water efficiency through innovative irrigation must be a top priority worldwide.