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Irrigation method saves water for potato growth

December 3, 2015, Gainesville, FL – University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers have found an irrigation method that uses 50 per cent less water than traditional systems to grow potatoes.

The system is called “hybrid centre pivot irrigation.” With this method, about two-thirds of the water used to help grow potatoes is sprayed from above ground, similar to natural rainfall, and about one-third comes from under the ground – a traditional method known as “seepage irrigation.”

UF/IFAS assistant professor Guodong “David” Liu led a group of UF/IFAS researchers in testing the impact of hybrid centre pivot irrigation on soil moisture and temperature at a Manatee County, Florida potato farm.

The method saved about 55 per cent of water in a three-year trial at the farm. Additionally, researchers found no loss in crop yield using less water. Liu said he now is convincing growers to use centre pivot irrigation with fertigation, in which all the water comes from above-ground sprinklers. Scientists say they may save one third more water.

“By using center pivot irrigation, we saved approximately one billion gallons of irrigation on the private farm during the last three growing seasons,” he said.

Growers typically use seepage irrigation because the system doesn’t need extra equipment, said Liu, a faculty member in the UF/IFAS Department of Horticultural Sciences. But seepage uses too much water, he said. Centre pivot irrigation equipment costs about $1,000 per acre, but it can be used for many years.

Invented by a Colorado farmer in 1940, centre pivot irrigation uses equipment that rotates around a pivot, thus watering the crop with sprinklers.

Commercial potato producers in Southwest Florida – home to the Manatee County where Liu’s team conducted the study – use an average of 543,086 gallons per acre, Liu said. Centre pivot irrigation uses only 230,812 per acre.

The new UF/IFAS study is published in the journal Agricultural Water Management.

December 10, 2015  By University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

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