Water is one of the three critical factors for both plants and animals. Making sure you have a sufficient quantity of quality water is a critical part of your planning.
What is available on the land you’re considering farming: surface pond, well, spring, municipal water, stream or river? Do you need a permit to draw water from the river? Or an agreement with your neighbors on a shared well? Investigate all the options and potential documentation that will allow you to use that water.
As you plan your farm enterprise, be sure to match the quantity and quality of your water source to your crops’ or animals’ needs. It’s a good idea to plan for redundancy of water sources so that if one becomes unavailable for any reason, you’re not left high and (literally) dry. Continue reading for more on selecting a water source and actually watering your crops.
A common choice for many farms. You need to have the right soil type to build one if you do not already have one. Contact your county Soil and Water Conservation District for more information on building ponds. Farm Ponds can have alternate uses such as fire control, recreation, wildlife habitat, and it is easy to determine the quantity of water available. The drawbacks to farm ponds include dam and plant management, and water quality issues from runoff that feeds into the pond.
Wells tap underground aquifers. Talk to your neighbors to get recommendations for local well-drillers.
Wells often have good water quality as they are less prone to runoff pollution, but the depth of the well can affect water supply during droughts, the water can pick up high levels of minerals, and they can be expensive to install.
Surface water creeks and rivers
Many farms have permits to draw water out of local water bodies. Contact the Department of Environmental Conservation for more information. Surface draws are readily available sources, but you likely have to pump long distances, there may be limits on gallons per day pumped, and you may have seasonal dry periods.
Springs are underground creeks that come to the surface. Known for their pure, cool water, springs can be harnessed for irrigation and watering. Springs usually have high water quality, but may be seasonal or you may be limited to a certain number of gallons/day.
Some farms are close enough to town to have access to municipal water. This water is treated and tested, which can be a real benefit for farms and those looking to create value-added products, but the cost of the water may make this option unfeasible for connected farms.
Watering Your Crops or Livestock
We’ve established that water is a critical nutrient for both plants and animals, and you’ve begun to investigate potential water sources. Delivering that water to the right place at the right time is another issue about which entire courses have been taught. Your local Cooperative Extension office should be able to assist you in learning about ways to develop your water source. If you’re producing livestock, the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative staff may be able to help you design a system that works well for you. Below are some fact sheets about irrigation and livestock watering:
How much water do I have access to? Is this source available year-round?
Can I transport it to my crop/livestock?
Do I have enough?
Can I develop multiple sources so that if one fails, I will still have water available?