Water Conservation Through Drip Irrigated Alfalfa Cropping Systems

Project Number: 
Project Duration: 
36 Months
May 1, 1999 to April 30, 2002
Institution of Principle Investigator while on this project: 
New Mexico State University

Investigators (most current known information)

Assistant Professor, College of Agriculture & Home Economics, New Mexico State University, 67 E. Dinkus Rd., Artesia NM 88210
TEL: +1-505-748-1228, FAX: +1-505-748-1229, Email: rflynn@nmsu.edu
Associate Professor, Agronomy and Horticulture Department, New Mexico State University, Box 30003, MSC3Q, Las Cruces NM 88003-8003
TEL: +1-575-646-6327, FAX: +1-575-646-6041, Email: tijones@nmsu.edu
Professor, Agricultural Business & Agricultural Economics Department, New Mexico State University, Box 30003, MSC 3169, Las Cruces NM 88003-8003
TEL: +1-575-646-2915, FAX: +1-575-646-3808, Email: jlibbin@nmsu.edu
Assistant Professor, Agronomy & Horticulture Department, New Mexico State University, Box 30003, MSC 3Q, Las Cruces NM 88003-8003
TEL: +1-575-646-3819, FAX: +1-575-646-6041, Email: iaray@nmsu.edu

Proposal Abstract

Description/Clientele: Our proposal seeks to demonstrate to farmers, Cooperative Extension Service personnel, Natural Resource and Conservation Service personnel, and crop advisors, the effectiveness of utilizing drip irrigation for alfalfa production in a common crop rotation schema in the arid southwestern U.S. True water conservation measures on a watershed scale must address those enterprises that require the most amount of water. In the irrigated, southwestern United States alfalfa is a major component in the crop rotation schema. Traditional methods of irrigation include flood and sprinkler irrigation. Recent improvements in drip tape design have improved the longevity and usefulness of low water delivery systems. Demonstrating the costs, benefits, and agronomic management practices of subsurface drip irrigation is key to promoting long term water savings.


  1. Demonstrate sufficient alfalfa acreage under drip irrigation to assist clientele in making decisions regarding subsurface drip irrigation installation (Flynn).
  2. Demonstrate yield and quality differences among alfalfa varieties grown under drip and sprinkler irrigation and how drought tolerant varieties can improve water savings (Ray).
  3. Produce an enterprise budget for alfalfa production utilizing drip irrigation to facilitate acceptance of the technology and the changes in farm management required to maintain economic production (Libbin).
  4. Demonstrate, through project notes, system maintenance, fertilizer requirements, weed control strategies, and irrigation timing, how growers can maintain proper water movement through the soil profile (Jones, Flynn).

Approach: A drip irrigation system will be installed at the NMSU Agricultural Science Center at Artesia for the purposes of demonstrating subsurface irrigation practices on property that is accessible to all clientele. Alfalfa and subsequent row crops will be monitored for yield and quality parameters as related to water application levels through subsurface drip irrigation and sprinkler irrigation. Records will be maintained to establish an enterprise budget utilizing this technology, and to demonstrate water conservation and agronomic practices necessary to efficiently utilize the technology. All records will be shared with clientele at workshops and crop associations.

Expected Benefits: The researchers anticipate being able to demonstrate that alfalfa yields can be maintained while reducing water application by at least 40% using drip irrigation versus sprinkler irrigation. The use of drought tolerant crop varieties to further improve water savings will also be demonstrated. Changes in the level of farm labor, irrigation costs, and depreciation values will be documented. Reduced water consumption while maintaining yield should assist in decisions necessary to offer affordable, low interest loans for adoption of the irrigation technology. Reducing the amount of water needed for crop production should help restore in-stream flows and improve ground water availability. This project will provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate student education.


No outcomes reported


Support for this project came from the USDA Forest Service and New Mexico State University