What is in this article?:
- Subsurface drip irrigation increases alfalfa yields
- Water use is reduced
- Capital investment recovered through improved yield and reduced water use
Steve Maddox Jr. uses the latest technology, including a weather station connected to a subsurface drip irrigation system to water some of his alfalfa in central Fresno County, Calif.
For the Maddox family, early innovation has been something of a trademark for their farming operation. Whether it has been the innovations in the dairy breeding program for Holstein cows to those which support the dairy, new programs and efficiencies remain a vital part of the business.
So when a new use for a commonly employed technology presented itself, Steve Maddox Jr. was interested.
Alfalfa is an important feed component at Maddox Dairy in Riverdale, Calif. With 3,300 hungry dairy cows milked three times a day, growing enough alfalfa to keep the cows healthy and producing plenty of milk is vital to a profitable business model.
Typically, Maddox floods his alfalfa fields once or twice a month. In Central California where Maddox grows alfalfa, eight to 10 cuttings a year is typical. All 14,000 tons of Maddox Farms’ alfalfa produced annually is consumed by the dairy.
Last October Maddox began the move away from the typical and into a practice of utilizing subsurface drip irrigation (SSDI) in the alfalfa and Maddox is happy. The yields speak for themself.
“In typical alfalfa production, first-year fields produce eight tons per acre,” Maddox said. “This subsurface drip irrigated field should produce nearly 11 tons per acre.”
Maddox credits this with keeping water in the field constantly, versus a flood system which inundates the plants with water in a feast or famine mode. He believes alfalfa becomes stressed when the soil dries out, leading to lesser yields.
Maddox is using Netafim SSDI on 66 of his 2,000 acres of alfalfa. He plans to install another 280 acres in 2014. Of his total alfalfa acreage, 25 percent is Round Up Ready. This includes the 66 acres on SSDI.
Drip lines are buried 15 inches deep and spaced every 38 inches. This spacing was chosen in part since Maddox will later convert the field to corn. The drip system can be used with the corn spacing as well.
Maddox relies on advisers from the irrigation system supplier to help with issues related to spacing and water efficiencies.
The system is set to keep water on the crop six days a week. He dries down the alfalfa four days prior to cutting. The SSDI starts again after baled hay is removed from the fields.