Furrow irrigation is a method of watering that utilizes trenches or “furrows” dug between crop rows in a field. The trenches are filled with water in order to water the crops on either side. This is also known as “flood and furrow irrigation” as the fields are flooded as part of this process.
While flood and furrow irrigation is inexpensive and effective, it is far from sustainable. It is an inherently erosive practice, resulting in soil and sediment loss through runoff. It also requires a high amount of water and is terribly inefficient regarding the amount of water runoff as opposed to water actually used by the crops.
Drip irrigation water efficiency is around ninety percent, as opposed to flood and furrow irrigation which generally has a water efficiency of closer to fifty percent. As a result, drip irrigation not only requires less water to provide for crops, it also causes far less erosion.
BCFoods is working to convert our bell pepper, garlic, and onion crops in China from flood and furrow irrigation to subsurface drip (bell pepper and onion) and sprinkler (garlic) irrigation. Thirty-five percent of our fields have already been converted since the project began in 2013.
BCFoods maintains over 500 acres of bell pepper agricultural fields. Converting this crop from the existing furrow irrigation to a sustainable drip irrigation system is a giant – and costly – undertaking. This is an exciting time to make this switch, as newer systems incorporate technology for greater sustainability.
Historically, sprinkler irrigation, while far more sustainable than furrow irrigation, has not been very water efficient. However, with new technology that measures weather and water saturation in soil, modern sprinkler irrigation is a sustainable method of irrigation.
Our investment in our water efficiency project, partially funded by the Knorr Sustainability Partnership Fund, includes weather stations with soil moisture probes. A related smartphone app incorporates forecast models, education materials, action alerts and thresholds. This technology will assist our on-site monitoring and physical control by providing environmental data including temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, soil moisture, and evaporation. This information, fed from the weather station to the smartphone app and then to equipment regulating the drip and sprinkler irrigation, helps automate both irrigation and chemigation.
By implementing this sustainable technology, we have already reduced water usage at these farm bases by over 30%. We intend to invest in adding this technology to other BCFoods farm bases throughout China, Mexico, India, and around the world.