Subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) technology is a solution for maximizing water productivity and crop yield potential.
But while the water-saving and productivity benefits of SDI are well documented, the challenges for dairy producers in utilizing naturally produced, nutrient-rich liquid manure as a forage crop fertilizer has limited wider adoption of SDI.
Recognizing the need to develop a drip irrigation product that meets the needs of dairy farmers, Netafim USA and Sustainable Conservation teamed up to develop an SDI systemthat enables the consistent and reliable application of liquid manure as a nutrient-rich fertilizer.
The SDI system uses advanced filtration and proprietary methodology developed by Netafim that blends dairy wastewater with fresh water at precisely the right ratio by monitoring the electrical conductivity (EC) in the water as it passes by a sensor. As the EC of the water changes, the system controller makes real-time adjustments to the blending valves in order to keep the fertilizer mixture at a constant state as it is delivered to the plant’s roots though drip irrigation tubing buried below the surface.
The technology was developed as part of a two-year joint research study conducted at De Jager Farms in Chowchilla, California, the nation’s top dairy producing state. The study utilized two adjacent plots at De Jager Farms, both under a strip-till corn/no-till winter forage rotation. Each was equipped with a Netafim SDI system to deliver water and nutrients to the plant’s root zone.
The first plot received nutrients in the form of synthetic fertilizer, and the second plot received nutrient-rich dairy wastewater taken from the De Jager Farms dairy center. Throughout the project period, researchers from Sustainable Conservation gathered and analyzed data on crop performance, soil health, and water savings to better determine the system’s effectiveness.
In addition to its ability to deliver nutrient-rich water to a crop, SDI has also shown to have a positive impact on the health of groundwater supply.
Analysis of the data is ongoing, but preliminary results are very positive according to De Jager Farm Manager, Nate Ray. “It’s a game changer for drip irrigation and it is a game changer for the way in which we apply our dairy wastewater,” said Ray. “We’ve reduced our overall water use on the test plot by 30 percent in one year and the yield per acre has improved by about 20 percent.”
Netafim USA and Sustainable Conservation expect to begin making the technology available to dairy farmers beginning in 2016.