Irrigation in North Dakota
Irrigation has always been considered an important part of the social and economic development of North Dakota. Irrigation allows consistent growth of long season crops (corn, alfalfa and potatoes), provides a consistent source of forage for animal agriculture and improves the economic viability of many farms.
At the present time there are about 260,000 acres of irrigated land in North Dakota where water management can be practiced throughout the growing season. This is slightly more than 1 percent of the total cultivated land in the state. Surface irrigation methods such as furrow, border and basin are used on about 40,000 acres and the rest have some type of sprinkler system. Center pivot sprinkler systems are the most popular and are used on about 215,000 acres.
The predominant irrigated crops (in order of irrigated acres) are corn (grain and silage), potatoes, alfalfa and hay, small grains (wheat, barley and oats), dry beans, soybeans, sugar beets and sunflowers. Economic analysis indicates that one composite irrigated acre is equivalent to 4 or 5 dry land acres in cash returns before government payments.
Irrigated land is scattered across the state usually located over shallow aquifers. The most common irrigated soils are sandy loams and loamy sands. Improper irrigation can affect the water quality (and quantity) of water in these shallow aquifers. Therefore irrigation water management along with nutrient management are very important.