Landscape Maintenance Co., Toro, Sees Opportunity in Drip Irrigation to Help Farmers Use Water More Efficiently
February 5, 2013 | Melonie Magruder
Known for decades for their landscape maintenance equipment found on nearly every golf course on the planet, Toro is looking to change the way farmers think about irrigation and husbandry of an essential, endangered resource: water. The company moved into agricultural drip/micro irrigation innovation about 15 years ago, when they bought out the El Cajon-based company Hardie Irrigation.
“Since then, Toro started getting into water management and has really developed its micro-ag division, focusing on drip irrigation,” Toro Marketing and Communications Manager Sky Anderson said. “Water is always going to be a farmer’s first concern, so how can he use it more efficiently and economically?”
Toro developed a number of ways to adapt drip irrigation to specific demands as different crops require different water distribution.
Permanent crops such as those in vineyards and orchards require durable year-round, climate and pressure-controlled systems that distribute water in accurate measures, while having to account for challenges of hillside planting. Annual, or row crops, need timely distribution of water during growing seasons that will not interfere with harvesting machines.
Toro’s solution was to come up with efficient methods to send irrigation where needed, accommodating variations in water pressure so that plants at the end of the line receive the same amount of water as those at the point of distribution.
The company has also developed a subsurface system that delivers water right at the root line and manages to not clog up with dirt particles, says Anderson.
It’s all in response to greater demand for water worldwide, at a time when climate change conditions have rendered this essential resource more and more expensive, if not increasingly unavailable.
More and more, states are beginning to institute irrigation restrictions. Directors of the Norfolk-based Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District in Nebraska recently put their farmers on a water diet, limiting how much water can be used for irrigation annually. New rules also prohibit the expansion of irrigated acres, as well as off-season irrigation.
“Demand is growing in Latin America for crops like alfalfa and corn,” Anderson said. “With costs going up, farmers even in the Midwest are looking at more sustainable irrigation methods.”
For farmers on tight budgets, of course, the biggest challenge there is to convince them that investing in drip irrigation systems ultimately will save them money, as well as resources. Toro’s website features a “Payback Wizard,” that allows farmers to estimate how long it will take to recover that investment and how many additional acres could be irrigated with water conserved.
“You enter data like your state, the crop you plant, your acreage, your current irrigation type and your current acre cost by acre foot,” Anderson said. “We’ll calculate what a drip system will cost you and figure out how long it will take to pay it back. Many farmers are able to do this in just a few years.”
According to Anderson, they also can achieve higher yields by implementing drip systems. He pointed out an article from Midwest Producer, which quoted yield increases of 40 to 50 percent with a 90 percent water delivery efficiency rate.
Inge Bisconer is the technology marketing and sales manager at Toro. She said that subsurface irrigation also allows for efficient delivery of nutrients and other ag chemicals directly to the roots of plants.
“There’s no evaporation or percolation waste,” Bisconer said. “A premium drip irrigation system is going to lower electricity and labor costs for a farmer. You maximize resources and increase yields.”
Bisconer said that Toro is focusing on providing their customers with the educational tools they need to navigate the cost efficiency ratios of switching to a new irrigation system.
“We have the Payback Wizard, and even an online ‘Drip Irrigation Owner’s Manual,’ but we also have a program that will help you create a design grid for your fields that yields the most efficient water use,” Bisconer said. “We can offer you micro jets and micro sprinklers. But with concerns about sustainability, possible water restrictions and general water quality, a drip line is simply the most cost-efficient system you can find.”