What is Irrigation Technology?

Parker Brown

Irrigation technology consists of devices used for irrigation purposes. Basically, irrigation is the process of artificially moving water to soil. This is a process which has been employed for centuries, with the earliest known irrigation systems dating back to ancient times. Irrigation processes always involve some sort of device to move water, such as pumps, sprinklers and canals. Irrigation technology can vary depending up the type of irrigation being employed and the environment being irrigated.

Many farming operations emploiy irrigation technology.
Many farming operations emploiy irrigation technology.

Ancient Middle Eastern empires were the first to employ irrigation technology, with the earliest traces being dated back to the sixth millennium BCE. Irrigation processes began here for the purpose of growing barley, which was not native to the region. Through the BCE millenniums, irrigation canals were employed for similar purposes. These systems, however, relied mainly on rainwater and natural flooding, with canals mainly being used for distribution purposes.

Terraced irrigation works by using gravity to water crops.
Terraced irrigation works by using gravity to water crops.

One of the oldest types of irrigation canals, known as qanats, is still in use today in certain part of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Qanats were developed in Persia around 800 BCE, and consist of many vertical wells driven into mountains or large slopes, all of which emptying out into a sloped canal underground. The mouth of these canals would be at the base of the field being irrigated.

At around the same time as the introduction of qanats, the first modern methods of hydraulic irrigation came about. The first useful waterwheel, known as the noria, consisted of clay pots around a wooden rim. The Chinese developed some of the first methods of moving water during the Han Dynasty, 206 BCE - 220 CE, employing chain pumps and other hydraulic machinery, such as water wheels, to move water to higher elevations. Over time, irrigation technology continued to develop, one of the most notable developments being mechanized water pumps.

While there are many different types of irrigation in the modern world, all of them require two major components: a system to pump the water and another to distribute it. The type of irrigation technology used depends on the irrigation process being employed. Two of the most common types of irrigation are surface and localized irrigation, the latter including drip, sprinkler, center pivot, and lateral move irrigation. Each process requires specific equipment and different volumes of water. Regardless of the process, the purpose of any irrigation system is to evenly distribute water across an entire field.

Surface irrigation is one of the most commonly used and simple methods of irrigation. Water is either naturally sent or pumped to the land, where it is distributed by gravity. Under many circumstances, the fields are separated into sectors and flooded. The water level is often controlled by mounds of soil, which are either broken or built upon to raise or lower the water level, respectively.

Localized irrigation involves specialized machinery to distribute water. Water is typically distributed through low-pressure pipes and can be applied to crops in a variety of ways. One of the most commonly found types of localized irrigation is drip irrigation, wherein water droplets are occasionally applied, as opposed to spraying. Most modern drip irrigation systems involve piping systems above the plants, which can create problems during the harvesting process.

Another common type of localized irrigation is sprinkler irrigation, which is exactly what its name suggests: Water is distributed through a stationary sprinkler system, which evenly sprays water over crops and plants. In some situations, fields may be too large for stationary sprinklers; instead, sprinkler systems supported by movable trusses run across fields regularly. This helps to evenly distribute water without having to install a massive stationary sprinkler system.

Surface irrigation is a simple technique in which fields are flooded.
Surface irrigation is a simple technique in which fields are flooded.

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