If you've ever driven or flown across the United States, then you've probably noticed large fields with sprinklers.
From the air, these fields can look like large circles or half circles.
What you've seen is farm irrigation.
What Is The Purpose of Farm Irrigation?
Farm irrigation is what farmers and others do to bring water to crops.
This type of irrigation is more common in the south central and western areas, where rainfall can be unpredictable and sporadic.
Irrigation allows farmers growing agricultural crops to provide a specific amount of water on schedule, which results in a healthy crop yield.
There are actually a number of benefits to farm irrigation, including landscaping, protection from frost, the prevention of soil compaction, sewage dispersal, suppression of dust and even mining.
Crops that are typically irrigated include sunflowers, soybeans, edible beans like navy and great northern beans, corn and alfalfa.
Types of Irrigation
Types of irrigation differ depending on the needs of each crop.
For example, irrigation for alfalfa may be an overhead sprinkler system on a center pivot or it may be a small canal with drain tubes that spill water over the ground.
Most people are more familiar with drip irrigation, which is where a small nozzle drips into the root region of each plant.
This type of irrigation is used typically for homeowners' watering needs, since it requires a specific dripper nozzle for each plant.
Types of Irrigation - Flood
Flood or surface irrigation is used when a stream or canal that has been dammed is opened, allowing the water to flood a given field or area.
The field is usually sloped slightly to allow the water to work its way to the bottom end so that all plants can receive moisture.
Rice fields are generally watered with flood irrigation, as well as cranberries, wild rice and sometimes alfalfa.
This type of irrigation is the oldest on record and has been employed for centuries.
One modified type of flood irrigation has become widespread in Nebraska and southern Wyoming.
Plastic PVC tubes of large dimension are placed along one edge of a crop as a continuous pipe and shallow trenches are dug between each plant row.
The PVC tubes have half-inch holes drilled every four to six inches and is attached to a water source.
The water is then allowed to drain out the holes and down the trenches between the plant rows, soaking the roots.
This type of irrigation is typically used with corn production.
Types of Irrigation - Sprinkler
This is done with a giant overhead sprinkler head that is fed from a hose; picture a high-pressure "Rain Bird" type sprinkler, just on a colossal scale.
These sprinkler irrigation systems are used for small field applications like a baseball field, football field, cemetery and so on.
The sprinkler head, sometimes called a "gun," can be moved to any convenient spot.
This type of irrigation is considered to be older technology.
Types of Irrigation – Center Pivot
Today's farm irrigation is known more by the center pivot.
The center of the pivot is a large hub from where the water is pumped with one or two arms extending the length of the field, held up by wheeled supports that move slowly.
These wheeled hubs will travel in a circle around the hub, using drop sprinklers to provide water to growing crops just a few feet below.
If the length or size of the field prevents traveling in a full circle, the center pivot can travel a quarter circle, a half circle, or some designated degree of a circle.
Center pivots are probably the most commonly known irrigation process, and are used to water corn, sunflowers, soybeans, edible beans, alfalfa and more.
Today's farm irrigation is much more complex and involved than simply spraying a plant with a hose.
This technology allows agricultural crops to be grown in a wide variety of areas and climates.