Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Equipment Irrigating
Balancing economics, environment in water management

in water management

April 24, 2008  By Myron Love


Growers need to start planning
future water supply sources for their crops, says an agricultural water
management specialist from Ohio State University.

balancing
The executive director of the International Program for Water Management in Agriculture recommends that growers interested in harvesting water build a water storage structure on their properties. They need to determine their catchment area, how much water runs off in drainage and how to tap in and capture that water.

Growers need to start planning future water supply sources for their crops, says an agricultural water management specialist from Ohio State University.

If they can’t have it delivered from the sky, they just may need to store and apply it themselves.

“Water quality and supply are becoming bigger and bigger issues,” says Larry Brown, head of the internationally known Overholt Drainage Education and Research Program and the annual Overholt Drainage School, plus the executive director of the International Program for Water Management in Agriculture. “Our goal in our research is to achieve a balance between economic and environmental objectives.”

Brown began seeking different ways to improve water quality about 15 years ago. At the same time, he sought ways to restore disappearing wetlands by integrating wetlands with farming operations.

“The model we developed has a lot of spin-offs,” he said. “Our model promotes drainage, harvesting and recycling. By managing and harvesting subsurface drainage, we can use any form of irrigation.”

He recommends that growers interested in harvesting water build a water storage structure on their properties. In building the pond, he says, growers have to determine what their catchment area is, how much water runs off in drainage and how to tap in and capture that water.

The first farm Brown and his team worked with was the Shinanger Farm, which was comprised of 50 to 55 acres in northwestern Ohio.

“We designed the system to put in a wetland where there used to be wetland 100 years ago,” Brown says. “We put a pump in the wetland that runs on electricity and costs just $2 per acre to operate. Water can either be pumped into the pond or pumped out for wetland use.

“As yet, we haven’t had to pull any water off the site; the farm’s owner is basically getting free water.”

As for storing water, Brown noted that in some cases, producers have built aboveground ponds a half-acre to an acre in size. “One producer set aside 1.5 acres and built a wetland cell, which he uses to cleanse and treat his water,” Brown noted.  “The water is clean enough to use in any overhead irrigation system.”

Brown and his team focus on the initial design, a hydrological analysis and wetland and reservoir capacity when designing water harvesting and storage system. A sub irrigation system may be more economical than an overhead system, he notes, especially if the farmer can benefit from water harvesting. The economics relate mainly to pumping energy savings.

“You don’t need as large of a pumping plant and you don’t use as much energy,” he said.

He added that this closed loop system and the use of subsurface irrigation has been shown to result in significantly higher yields.


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