Use of Irrigation Systems Vary by Crop

Hills Water Flat Land

New data from USDA’s Economic Research Service shows irrigation methods vary by crop because of differences in production practices, crop value, water source, and soil characteristics. Irrigation application methods can be broadly categorized as either gravity or pressurized systems. Pressurized irrigation systems apply water under pressure through pipes or other tubing, while gravity irrigation systems use field slope to advance water across the field surface. Rice has the largest share of acres irrigated by gravity systems, which is related to the flooding requirements of most rice production systems in the United States. Peanuts have the largest proportion of acres irrigated by pressurized systems. Pressurized systems are also prevalent among high-value specialty crops, such as vegetables and orchards. Pressurized irrigation systems, particularly low-flow micro-irrigation systems, are generally more expensive than gravity irrigation systems, precluding their use among lower value crops. Pressurized systems are also more prominent among crops concentrated in regions more reliant on groundwater.

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