Irrigation efficiency pays in Alta.

Irrigation specialists say new pipes and pivots through efficiency programs are helping southern Alberta producers lower costs and conserve more water. | File photo

Irrigation specialists say new pipes and pivots through efficiency programs are helping southern Alberta producers lower costs and conserve more water.

One of the newer initiatives, called the Irrigation Efficiency Program, has already been showing results, said Brad Calder, a soil and water technologist with Alberta Agriculture’s irrigation section.

“We’ve had a fair number of applications,” he said.

“The largest impact would be the conservation of water and energy. When producers upgrade their irrigation, they can perform with better equipment that lowers their costs.”

He said the program, administered through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, helps cover the costs of purchasing and installing either a new low-pressure centre pivot system, a drip system or upgrading existing systems.

Up to 40 percent, to a maximum of $5,000, or $15,000 of costs can be covered, depending on the type of upgrade.

The program follows a similar initiative under Growing Forward 2.

Calder said continuing with this program made sense because new technology is becoming available, but producers needed an incentive to re-coup upgrading and installation costs.

“In the end they will pay less money for water and less for electricity,” he said.

“Moving to a low-pressure centre pivot allows them to more effectively irrigate fields and minimize water loss.”

The CAP program isn’t the only initiative that has helped producers lower energy and water consumption.

Other programs through irrigation districts have improved the energy efficiency of farms, in turn allowing more producers to enter into the network.

“As we move to better irrigation methods, we do see the benefit in allowing the districts to expand more acres using the same amount of water,” said Ivan Friesen, general manager of the Eastern Irrigation District.

Friesen said efficiencies over time have also reduced costs associated with installing water pipelines.

He said they are now installing smaller pipes, which are cheaper, because less water is being used. Larger pipes were being installed before because older systems required more water.

“More water is also staying in the river, which has ecological benefits,” he added.

Overtime, about 53 percent of the system has been converted from surface canals to underground pipe, which is saving more water, according to provincial data.

More pipes will continue to be installed, with costs estimated at around $3.6 billion. Installing new on-farm infrastructure is expected to cost about an additional $1 billion.

As of 2017, about 77 percent of irrigators had low-pressure systems in Alberta’s 13 districts. High pressure centre pivots made up seven percent, wheel moves were eight percent and gravity irrigation was seven percent.

Irrigation efficiency program eligibility

  • The program can cover 40 percent of eligible costs up to a maximum of $5,000 for equipment upgrades or when upgrading from an existing irrigation system to a surface drip system.
  • Applicants can receive $15,000 when upgrading from a gravity, side-wheel or high-pressure centre pivot system to a new low-pressure centre pivot system or a subsurface drip system.
  • All project activities and equipment purchases must occur after April 1, 2018.
  • Only one parcel of land is eligible.
  • Other eligible equipment upgrades include high-efficiency sprinkler nozzles, variable-rate equipment (controllers and software) and control panel upgrades (includes base stations for telemetry).

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