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Thriving in Drought with Subsurface Drip Irrigation (SDI): Case Studies and Tools

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Paper number  131610718,  2013 Kansas City, Missouri, July 21 - July 24, 2013. (doi: @2013
Authors:   Inge Bisconer, Robert Bergquist
Keywords:   Subsurface Drip Irrigation (SDI) Drought Drip Irrigation Economics Drip Irrigation Design Drip Irrigation Operation and Maintenance.

Abstract. As the worst drought in 50 years gripped America’s farmland in the summer of 2012, and crop failure was rampant, three Nebraska producers reported increased soybean yields and significantly lower water use at the same time by using Subsurface Drip Irrigation (SDI) to deliver water and nutrients directly to the roots of their crops. This was in contrast to the typical practice of applying water to the surface with gravity or sprinkler irrigation systems. In addition to improved yields and resource use efficiency (RUE), other benefits cited included an improved ability to farm in drought conditions, improved flexibility and improved convenience. In each of these case studies, the producer found SDI a worthwhile investment.

Considering the potential benefits of SDI, Toro has developed several tools that help producers with the transition. First, the Drip/Micro Payback Wizard is an online calculator that estimates how long it will take to amortize an investment in SDI by comparing before and after yield and production financial data. In addition, it estimates how many additional acres may be farmed with the water saved by adopting SDI. Second, AquaFlow 3 Drip Irrigation Design Software allows users to quickly and easily design a drip irrigation system by entering field parameters and then selecting appropriate laterals, sub-mains and mainlines. AquaFlow’s unique dashboard format displays system hydraulic parameters on one screen for both irrigation and flushing events, and includes a user friendly, color-coded uniformity map. Third, the second edition of Toro’s Drip Irrigation Owner’s Manual is available in both English and Spanish, with measurements in English and metric units. This 129-page, four-color, fully illustrated, spiral-wound document is a comprehensive guide to the operation and maintenance of both new and existing micro-irrigation systems for row, field and permanent crops. All of these tools are available for free download from and

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