Research Outcomes

Use of water management information: Irrigators relied most on neighbors and extension agents or university specialists and less on equipment dealers and private consultants. This lends support for the traditional extension model of working with influential farmers to transfer information.

Methods to determine when to irrigate: Few farms use management intensive methods such as soil moisture devices, computer models, or commercial services. Many farms irrigate based on the calendar or receive water “in-turn” from irrigation districts. This suggests that there remains significant scope for water conservation using scientific irrigation scheduling (ISI). Technology transfer will likely be more successful if irrigation district staff as well as growers are target audiences.

Barriers to adopting irrigation technologies and practices to conserve water or energy: Over 40 percent of Arizona farms and 20 percent of New Mexico farms had not investigated improved technologies in the 4 years prior to the survey. Those not seeking improvements, however, accounted for a small share of water use. The main barriers to making system improvements appear to be financial constraints.

Conservation program participation: USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) provides irrigators with cost-share payments to defray the cost of irrigation and drainage improvements. Participation rates are higher among larger farms, who account for the bulk of irrigation water use. However, because small farms are such a large share of all farms in New Mexico, small farms there accounted for over 70 percent of all EQIP contracts to irrigators. States have certain latitude in administration of program funding. In New Mexico, 74 percent of EQIP contracts are with smaller farms that account for 26 percent of total state irrigation water applied. In Arizona, 65 percent of contracts are with larger farms that account for 77 percent of the water applied.

Differences by farm size: Statistical analysis reveals that there are many significant differences in water use and management behavior across farm size.

  • Smaller operators were more likely to rely on irrigation district staff or neighboring farmers for water management information, while large operators were more likely to rely on government agency staff and private consultants. While larger operators were more likely to rely on university / extension staff in Arizona, larger operators were less likely to do so in New Mexico.
  • Larger farms in both states were more likely to rely on the most managementintensive and water conserving methods to time irrigation applications. However, overall adoption of these techniques remains low, even among the largest farms.
  • Smaller farms were more likely to have their irrigation water delivered in turn and hence have less control in timing of irrigation.
  • In Arizona, 59 percent of small operators reported that they had not investigated methods to improve irrigation efficiency or conserve water. In New Mexico, this figure was 23 percent. In both states, however, the largest 20 percent of operators account for over 75 percent of water use.