Alfalfa growers may be encouraged to take a fresh look at subsurface drip irrigation (SSDI) based on promising work underway at the Burford Ranch in Five Points, Calif.

Francisco Parra, an agronomist and pest control advisor at Burford Ranch, presented preliminary information at an alfalfa pest and crop management meeting held in Dos Palos, Calif. in June on switching the ranch’s Roundup Ready alfalfa acreage to SSDI on 60-inch beds to maximize water efficiency.

He also provided additional details in a follow-up interview.

“By choice or necessity, we decided that we would deviate away from sprinkler irrigation to maximize every single inch of water we have,” Parra said, due to the state’s continuing drought and subsequent water shortages impacting farmers.

Burford Ranch and other operations on the west side of Fresno County are land rich but water poor. Continuing drought conditions and regulations are diverting water for species’ protection and habitat restoration.

This year, farming operations in the Westlands Water District, including Burford Ranch, only received a five-percent surface water allocation. For now, Parra is using most of the ranch’s carryover water from the previous year - along with the limited allocation - to maintain almond and wine grape acreage where there no well water exists.

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Parra says his father - Sal Parra, Burford Ranch’s general manager – saw the writing on the wall. They believed that continued water shortages could plague their ability to maximize the farm’s resources. They chose to try growing alfalfa seed with SSDI to use water more efficiently and better manage the irrigation of the crop.