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Farm Water Management

Farmers must be careful stewards of the water used to produce food and fiber.

Applying the right amount of water to grow farm products isn't just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing. Careful irrigation and farm water management can help farmers conserve water, improve plant health, and even benefit the quality and quantity of their crops. Farmers are always looking to improve, learn more about farm water innovations.

Learn more about irrigation and how farmers manage water below.

  • Irrigation

    Irrigation is the controlled use of water to produce food and fiber in an agricultural system. Irrigation is an important tool that allows sufficient food to be produced in order to feed and clothe the world's population.

    In California, water is a scarce and precious resource. Farmers here are careful in how they manage water, and recognize that it is one of the most critical elements in California food production. Water scarcity is one of the biggest challenges that face many farmers in California.

    California's farmers must know how much water is available to them before they can begin planning how to prepare their fields, choose the crop for each field, or make other business decisions.

  • Types of Irrigation

    There are two primary types of irrigation, gravity systems, and pressurized systems.

    In gravity irrigation the water runs down furrows between rows of crops or floods a field. This method is good for crops like tomatoes and rice or alfalfa. Gravity irrigation is a major source of groundwater recharge in many parts of the state.

    Pressurized irrigation systems use electric or diesel pumps to pressurize pipes and push water through filters to mechanisms that deliver water to the crops. Sprinklers and micro-irrigation are forms of pressurized irrigation.

    There are lots of things that help farmers irrigate their crops more efficiently. Learn more about innovations in farm water management.

  • Soil Preparation

    Long before a farmer plants their field, careful planning is done to determine how best to prepare the soils for the chosen crop.

    Farmers carefully adjust the slope of the field by moving earth (called grading) in order to optimize the rate at which water moves across it. 

    Some crops perform best with different size beds, or with berms of earth that alter how the plant, water, and earth interact.

    Farmers are considering and planning how they can best manage water for irrigation long before crops are ever planted.

  • Irrigation Scheduling

    Farmers use a variety of tools to help them determine when to irrigate. They carefully monitor not only the weather, but also the moisture of the soil, the plant's stress level, and other factors to determine when to irrigate.

    Scientific irrigation scheduling is an important component in California's modern farms.

  • Recycling and Recovery

    There are times when surplus water flows to the end of a field before the plants have had a chance to use it, or before the soil can absorb it. Farmers use networks of ditches, pumps, and "recovery ponds" to help ensure that this water is not wasted.

    Water that has flowed to the end of a field is used on adjacent fields, or returned to the water supplier for other farmers to use.

  • Water Use Efficiency and Conservation

    The terms water conservation and water use efficiency are often used interchangeably but to water users they’re different things.

    Water conservation is generally perceived as an activity that reduces the amount of water used to do something, such as wash a load of clothes or take a shower. High efficiency washers and low-flow showerheadsconservewater that can then be used by another user or at a later time. 

    Water use efficiency is when a water user does things to achieve more using the same (or less) water. An example could be a farmer who upgrades his or her irrigation system so that water is more efficiently used by the crop, producing more saleable, higher quality crop on roughly the same amount of water. The efficiency is what is gained in crop production.