Make the most of limited water for challenge of irrigating vegetables

Power shortages and reduced water deliveries add to the challenges of irrigating vegetables, which can suffer significant yield losses without adequate water. Joe Nunez, University of California Cooperative Extension Kern County vegetable crops/plant pathology farm adviser, offers these tips to help minimize the impact of tight water supplies on profits.

  • Instead of using less water to irrigate the same amount of acreage, it may pay to reduce the planted area and use sufficient water on fewer acres.

  • Plant fields with the best water-holding capacity, like heavy textured soils. That can help reduce water stress should a power shortage prevent timely irrigation.

  • Plant fields offering good irrigation efficiency, not those with saline soils, improper slopes, or low spots.

  • Consider the efficiency of the application method. Furrow irrigation may be more efficient with shorter rows. Rows which are too long may lead to over-irrigation of the ends of the field when sufficient water is applied to irrigate the center of the field. When using sprinklers, make sure that sprinkler heads are working properly, that worn nozzles are replaced and that all nozzles are the same size. Also replace any worn or torn rubber gaskets on the joints.

  • Control weeds which are in competition with crops over water, as well as nutrients and sunlight.

  • Use tailwater recovery systems to reuse tailwater when possible. Tailwater is best used in furrow irrigation systems rather than drip or sprinkler systems.

  • Apply only enough water to refill the root zone. Shallow-rooted vegetables do not require irrigation much deeper than 12 inches. Deep-rooted crops can mine water from larger areas, requiring less-frequent irrigations but longer application periods. Use various charts and tables for different soil types and crops to calculate irrigation budgets.

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