Surface irrigation

Surface irrigation

Surface irrigation is defined as the group of application techniques where water is applied and distributed over the soil surface by gravity. It is by far the most common form of irrigation throughout the world and has been practiced in many areas virtually unchanged for thousands of years.

Surface irrigation is often referred to as flood irrigation, implying that the water distribution is uncontrolled and therefore, inherently inefficient. In reality, some of the irrigation practices grouped under this name involve a significant degree of management (for example surge irrigation). Surface irrigation comes in three major types; level basin, furrow and border strip.

Basin Irrigation

Level basin irrigation has historically been used in small areas having level surfaces that are surrounded by earth banks. The water is applied rapidly to the entire basin and is allowed to infiltrate. Basins may be linked sequentially so that drainage from one basin is diverted into the next once the desired soil water deficit is satisfied. A “closed” type basin is one where no water is drained from the basin. Basin irrigation is favoured in soils with relatively low infiltration rates (Walker and Skogerboe 1987) [cite book
last = Walker
first = W.R.
coauthors = Skogerboe, G.V.
title =Surface irrigation: Theory and practice
publisher =Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs
date= 1987
id =
] . Fields are typically set up to follow the natural contours of the land but the introduction of laser levelling and land grading has permitted the construction of large rectangular basins that are more appropriate for mechanised broadacre cropping.

Furrow Irrigation

Furrow irrigation is conducted by creating small parallel channels along the field length in the direction of predominant slope. Water is applied to the top end of each furrow and flows down the field under the influence of gravity. Water may be supplied using gated pipe, siphon and head ditch or bankless systems. The speed of water movement is determined by many factors such as slope, surface roughness and furrow shape but most importantly by the inflow rate and soil infiltration rate. The spacing between adjacent furrows is governed by the crop species, common spacings typically range from 0.75 to 2 metres. The crop is planted on the ridge between furrows which may contain a single row of plants or several rows in the case of a bed type system. Furrows may range anywhere from less than 100 m to 2000 m long depending on the soil type, location and crop type. Shorter furrows are commonly associated with higher uniformity of application but result in increasing potential for runoff losses. Furrow irrigation is particularly suited to broad-acre row crops such as cotton, maize and sugar cane. It is also practiced in various horticultural industries such as citrus, stone-fruit and tomatoes.

Bay/Border Strip Irrigation

Border strip or bay irrigation could be considered as a hybrid of level basin and furrow irrigation. The borders of the irrigated strip are longer and the strips are narrower than for basin irrigation and are orientated to align lengthwise with the slope of the field. The water is applied to the top end of the bay, which is usually constructed to facilitate free-flowing conditions at the downstream end. One common use of this technique includes the irrigation of pasture for dairy production.

Drainage after harvest or in rainy season

Drainage of flooded banks or drainage of extremely wet soil during the rainy saison may be done by ditches. Drainage by ditches is may be done with crops that require the soil to be wet but not completely saturated (and sometimes, especially not at certain times of year). An example is blueberries. In the rainy season/winter, they require drier soil.


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