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Viability of Subsurface Drip Irrigation for Alfalfa Production in the Low Desert of California

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

Citation:  2018 ASABE Annual International Meeting  1800415.(doi:10.13031/aim.201800415)
Authors:   Aliasghar Montazar, Khaled Bali, Daniele Zaccaria, Daniel Putnam
Keywords:   Alfalfa, crop water use, hay yield, SDI, viability assessment, water productivity.

Abstract. Efficient use of irrigation water is one of the highest conservation priorities in Southern California. In the low desert region, alfalfa used to be the largest agricultural water user due to its high acreage and long growing season. It accounts for about 30% of the crops grown and is the dominant water user in the region. Currently, due to an increasing water-use competition and long-term drought at the Colorado River Basin, reliable solutions for the resiliency of forage production are likely more important than ever. This study assesses the viability of subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) for alfalfa production using our research trials at UC Desert Research and Extension Center, two commercial fields in the Palo Verde Valley, and a case study through multiple-visits – and- interviews with eight alfalfa progressive growers in California low desert and Arizona. A comprehensive analysis was conducted on the impact of SDI on alfalfa hay production, water distribution uniformity, crop water use, water productivity, rodent issue and management, salinity control, crop rotation, and system profitability. The results demonstrate greater hay yield, crop water use, and water productivity of SDI as compared to flood irrigation with an average increase of 27%, 3 - 6.3%, and 20%, respectively. While utilizing this irrigation technology could have high profitability potential for alfalfa production in the low desert, high considerations are required on the management of soil salinity and rodent issues. Although growers must be cautious about the restrictions, the ability of SDI to achieve higher yields and conserve water should be viewed as an important strategy for increasing water productivity of alfalfa production systems. Further work is needed to better understand the impact of management practices and strategies on the feasibility of SDI application, and to maintain agricultural production system economically and environmentally sustainable.

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