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Definition & Types of Irrigation

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  • 0:01 What Is Irrigation?
  • 1:04 Types of Irrigation
  • 3:22 Problems with Irrigation
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This lesson explores irrigation, a crucial technique for farming. Our food sources, and ultimately our daily lives, depend on irrigation. Complete this lesson to learn more about this important technology.

What is Irrigation?

Picture a hot day, you're sweating, and the sun is beating down on you. Wouldn't a nice, cool glass of water be refreshing? Of course! Now, picture how your plants look on such a hot day. They probably look wilted and not so great. What do the plants need?

The answer is water, just like you!

All plants need water to go through a process called, photosynthesis, through which they make their own food to grow, develop, and ultimately produce the fruits and vegetables that we eat. When plants don't have water, they cannot perform this process, and they die.

What would happen if all the plants died? Well, we would die, too! We would have no more food, the animals we eat wouldn't have food, and our whole ecosystem would collapse. This is why farmers, from the beginning of time, have used a technique called irrigation. Irrigation is the process of artificially supplying crops with water. This technique is especially important in areas that receive little rain or irregular rainfall.

Types of Irrigation

There are many types of irrigation, and farmers choose which one to use based on the environment they are farming in. Let's go over the most common methods.

The first type is surface irrigation, which uses gravity to distribute water over the field. Water flows from an area of higher elevation downhill to reach all the crops. Unless the land is naturally sloped, this form can be very labor intensive. A classic example of surface irrigation can be found in the rice paddies in East Asia, where land is dug into terraces and water flows from the top to the bottom, watering each plot of land.

Localized irrigation uses a system of tubes to pump water throughout the field. This form includes drip irrigation, which delivers water droplets directly to the roots of plants.

You probably are familiar with sprinklers, either from running through them as a child or using them to water a lawn. Sprinkler irrigation involves a system of pressurized tubes that expel water onto crops. Variations include rotary irrigation in which the sprinkler system whirls around, applying the water in a circular motion.

The central pivot is another type of irrigation that uses sprinklers. Just like when you pivot a car, or turn while on foot, these sprinklers change directions to water the entire field. The sprinklers are mounted on mechanical tracks that move them in a circular motion as they spray water on the crops.

Sprinkler systems also include lateral move irrigation. This type of irrigation also uses sprinklers, which move manually or mechanically across the field and then reconnect to a hose. While lateral move irrigation requires more effort, farmers may find it more economical.

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