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New Center Pivot Irrigation Uses 50 Percent Less Water To Grow Potatoes

Dec 02, 2015 03:17 PM EST
Scientists have developed a hybrid center pivot irrigation system that uses 50 percent less water. This will come in handy for Florida farmers that grow 351,000 tons of potatoes each year. (Photo : Flickr: Olivier Bacquet)

In an attempt to sustain Florida's growing number of potato crops, researchers have devised a method called "hybrid center pivot irrigation" that uses 50 percent less water than traditional systems to grow the economically important plants. 

To do this, two-thirds of the irrigation water is sprayed from above ground - similar to natural rainfall - and about one-third comes from under the ground in a traditional method known as "seepage irrigation." Following a three-year trial, researchers from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) reveal the new method saved about 55 percent of water needed for potato crops, according to a news release.

"By using center pivot irrigation, we saved approximately one billion gallons of irrigation on the private farm during the last three growing seasons," Guodong "David" Liu, leader of the study and an assistant professor from UF/IFAS, explained.

The hybrid center pivot irrigation system was tested at a Florida potato farm in Manatee County, where researchers monitored the system's impact on soil moisture and temperature. In addition to saving water, they found no evidence of crop loss. Potato crops yield profits of $131 million annually, so this new system could prove to be economically thrifty.  

The new system uses equipment that essentially rotates around a center pivot, thus watering the crop with above-ground sprinklers. Generally speaking, farmers use seepage irrigation because the system doesn't require extra equipment. While there is an upfront cost of about $1,000 per acre for the new center pivot irrigation equipment, it can be used for many years and drains less water from natural groundwater reserves. To put this in perspective, for the 351,000 tons of potatoes cultivated each year, farmers use an average of 543,086 gallons per acre. The center pivot system, on the other hand, uses only 230,812 gallons per acre.

Therefore, the next step is convincing farmers to use the new system. Their study was recently published in the journal Agricultural Water Management.

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