Water scarcity is hardly thought of in southern Alberta thanks to the successful management of its irrigation districts. But as water demands continue to increase year after year, especially as crops diversify and new development occurs within the districts, water conservation will become the mantra of the future, predicts Southern Irrigation’s Lethbridge branch manager Marc Jongerden.
“We definitely think of ourselves as a forward-thinking company,” says Jongerden. “We see what we are offering as another step forward for conservation.”
Southern Irrigation is in the vanguard of companies now offering revolutionary sub-surface drip irrigation technology. It has massive potential, but has not yet been widely adopted in Alberta. There are various reasons for this, says Jongerden.
“The yield potential with drip irrigation is definitely there as long as the system is used to its fullest potential,” he says. “It’s a totally different way of irrigating. One researcher I was talking with said it’s like when we went from wheels and hand lines to pivots. People back then said you cannot do that. You’ve got to put on four to six inches in one cycle. So people were very skeptical about shifting over to pivots; and now pivots have since become our standard. The idea of going from pivots to drip is a similar shift.
“People are used to applying the water a certain way, and it’s just a matter of educating them on the benefits of this drip irrigation system,” he adds.
“We are definitely in the early adoption stage,” agrees Southern Irrigation technical sales manager Frank Oostenbrink. “While it is new technology for this area, it is by no means new technology worldwide. Sub-surface drip irrigation has been around for close to 30 years, and has been used in arid areas where water is a little more scarce.
“But if we look at where agriculture is going in southern Alberta, land prices are going up, demand for food is going up, what’s that going to mean for water? It’s obvious we are going to need more water, and people are going to turn to higher value crops. And higher value crops warrant a system like this.”
“It’s not a fit for everything, but we look at each specific case and judge it on its own merits,” says Jongerden. “We put in the numbers, and we scale the project out over 10 or 20 years. We look at the Return On Investment potentials on that particular piece of land people are thinking about doing. There are different variables and reasons for why people would look at sub-surface drip, but it all comes down to, in the end, what’s my ROI? We feel there is huge potential for these kinds of systems. And again, it’s those early adopters who see how the technology is working in their operations.”
Southern Irrigation offers two lines of drip irrigation: FDI and Precision Mobile Drip Irrigation.
With FDI a watering grid network is laid out beneath the surface and waters from the roots up.
“With the watering from the top, you are creating a lot of compaction and you are getting a lot of run-off. With this kind of sub-surface drip system you don’t get that,” states Jongerden.
“This technology has been so successful in the U.S., there are hundreds of thousands of acres which use this system,” explains Oostenbrink. “There are growers in the States who have 10,000-20,000 acres of sub-surface drip irrigation, and they are growing corn, alfalfa, cotton and it has been very successful for them.”
The largest project Southern Irrigation has undertaken in Alberta the past seven years is about a half section, but both Jongerden and Oostenbrink feel the potential for the size of fields using this method of irrigation is quite vast. They acknowledge, however, feasibility ultimately depends on the natural geography and budget of the customer.
“We just encourage anyone who has an individual need, or wants to make their operation more efficient, to come in and talk to us,” says Oostenbrink. “We are possibility thinkers, and we will do what we can to help the customer succeed.”
“We cover a large spectrum of water needs,” adds Jongerden. “Everything from tree nurseries to septic fields. There are a lot of things like haskap berries coming in. We supply market gardens, sprinkler and drip systems. Even with this heat (in July), there are a lot of guys coming in for simple sprinkler systems for on top of their barns to keep them cool. Our motto is “Intelligent Water Solutions;” so whatever that means for the customer, we try to provide that service.”
In that vein of “Intelligent Water Solutions,” Southern Irrigation is extremely excited about Precision Mobile Drip Irrigation.
“Precision Mobile Drip Irrigation is where we attach drip lines to the pivot and drag them over the ground,” explains Oostenbrink. “We basically replace the nozzles with a drip system. The cost is also significantly lower because you have already got the pivot infrastructure there, and so now for $25,000-$30,000 you can convert to drip irrigation.”
“With this type of drip irrigation, the surface can get wet but we can control it in such a way the soil can stay dry. So we see increased bee activity and also the weed pressures can be potentially less because of that,” says Jongerden.
He adds this method can also reduce roughage, help reduce certain disease issues and provides a much more efficient watering system overall. He gives the example of one recent project Southern Irrigation has recently completed near Coaldale.
“We have a project here in Coaldale where a pivot was only covering about 75-80 acres, and by adding drip we were able to cover 105 acres. That increase in land under irrigation made it feasible for our customer to go to drip. In this case, like so many others, we are there to work hand-in-hand with the farmer and the customer to find a solution for their individual needs.”
For more intelligent watering solutions, and to view the company’s complete product and service line, visit the Southern Irrigation website at www.southerndrip.com.