Rainfall is never guaranteed, and irrigation water may be expensive or difficult to obtain during dry spells. Particularly if you want to reduce the impact your farming operations have on the environment, it’s worthwhile looking into some of the easy ways in which you can reduce your need for sprinkling.
Use Compost Instead of (or in Addition to) Fertiliser
This won’t exactly be news to anyone familiar with biological farming or indeed recreational gardening, but soil with a high organic content can often go as much as three times longer without becoming dry. Humus acts like a sponge, soaking up water when it’s available and releasing it gradually as the surrounding earth dries out.
Compost is also an excellent mulch if applied to the surface. Especially when dry, temperatures in bare soil can easily surpass 50 °C (120 °F), damaging roots and causing it to dry out even further.
Consider No-Till Cultivation
Although not everyone has heard of this, no-till (or minimum tillage) agriculture simply means not disturbing the soil any more than necessary. That means no plowing and only limited disking when sowing.
The basic idea is once again obtaining a healthy soil structure: loose enough for proper drainage but also porous enough to retain water. As a side benefit, organic matter from the previous crop is left as a natural mulch. This traps rainwater which would have otherwise run off downhill and decays into compost over time, further improving the soil structure.
Check the Weather Report
You may be saying “duh!” right now, but most likely you’ve also seen it rain on recently irrigated fields, or watched high winds send airborne sprays all the way to your neighbor’s property.
Although seven day forecasts are not much more reliable than reading tealeaves, a good farmer will at least listen to what they have to say. There are a number of good apps available specifically intended to help farmers plan irrigation schedules, while actually digging a hole to measure moisture content at different levels isn’t unheard of.
Improve Water Storage
Relying on groundwater or municipal supplies is a fool’s game: as soon as you really need to irrigate, these sources will be unavailable.
Digging a pond is a one-time expense that improves a property’s value and will keep yielding benefits for decades to come. Assuming that you keep invasive plants and other problems under control, it will also become a beautiful landscape feature, and can even be stocked with ducks or fish.
Invest in Improved Irrigation Systems
This last item can be expensive, so it might be best to do this incrementally as older equipment is retired. The most efficient system depends on the type of crop, soil and general climate, but technologies like gravity-fed drip systems can easily slash water usage in half.