Global Positioning Systems (GPSs), are changing the way irrigation is done, making it more efficient than ever. Drip irrigation is a great tool to improve crop quality, reduce loss from drought, and improve crop yield. Many farmers are using this system and finding ways to make irrigation as efficient as possible. Two downsides of irrigation are having too much water runoff, and water being wasted. A global positioning system, when used effectively, helps eliminate much of both problems.

An article about golf course irrigation noted that traditional mapping tools are very inaccurate. The same principles would apply regardless of where the tools were used. Just a few inches’ difference over several acres could drastically change how much water is used in irrigating a specific piece of land. Having accurate maps, and accurate readings of hills — no matter how small — is of utmost importance for efficient irrigation.

GPS, developed by the Department of Defense, is a satellite-based, radio wave navigation system. It provides three–dimensional information on position and time regardless of weather conditions or anything else that might interfere. It is the most accurate method of navigation available for commercial use today.

Some applications of GPS include:

  • Map development
  • Precise auditing of irrigation
  • Irrigation record drawings
  • Producing maps for irrigation computer systems

In developing a base map, from which irrigation systems can be more exact with water distribution, a GPS is the key ingredient. Aerial photographs and measuring devices all have their benefits. Traditional tools measure the land itself, but are not useful in measuring topography. Aerial photography is also useful, but captures only a single moment in time. Wind or rain can change landscapes quickly.

GPS is relatively inexpensive. The cost of the original system is most of the investment. It is highly accurate in real time. If a storm changes the field in question even slightly, the GPS still produces accurate measurements in real time. No guesswork is involved because any changes are noted almost immediately.

Having this updated information is invaluable to anyone who is using an irrigation system. Even a drip system, which relies on gravity, can benefit. A GPS allows you to adjust individual pipes, or individual pieces, so you can add the right amount of water in all the right places. Two of the few drawbacks of irrigation is wasted water, and excessive runoff. Small pools can also be created in unwanted places, providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The GPS can eliminate those drawbacks and could have a positive effect on the environment.

About 40 percent of the fresh water in the United States is used in irrigation. Extensive use of GPSs would lower that percentage. GPS allows irrigation managers to be much more precise in their operations. This precision will likely become even more critical in areas where water availability is decreasing. In areas like the western United States, many dry areas, with more people living in them, are causing acute water shortages. Using technology like a GPS can help solve some of those problems. The GPS allows you to be precise in water usage, so only the amount needed is used. Having that information could make irrigation even more desirable to irrigation managers.