Water Shortages, Higher Labor Costs Force California Growers to Re-Evaluate Irrigation

January 1, 2015


Dirk Lenie, Lindsay | 402-829-6805 or
Debbie Hilt, EG Integrated | 402-614-3000 or



Water Shortages, Higher Labor Costs Force California Growers
to Re-Evaluate Irrigation
With 80% of water used for agriculture during the driest years on record, California must consider more efficient irrigation solutions to sustain its $50 billion agriculture and dairy industries.


(Omaha, Neb.)—January, 2015—Change can be tough. But when it comes to sustaining California’s multi-billion dollar agriculture and dairy industries, it might be necessary to avoid economic turmoil.

According to the USDA1, more than one third of the country’s vegetables and nearly two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are produced in California. And as the leading dairy producing state, California produced 21 percent of the nation’s supply in 2012. Combined, both agriculture and dairy equate to a $50+ billion dollar paycheck for the state. But has the recent drought put this booming industry in jeopardy?

“There’s no doubt that exceedingly dry conditions have put California growers at a crossroads in terms of the sustainability of their current agricultural practices.  When you consider the scarcity of water resources paired with the state’s rising labor costs, farmers are certainly facing challenges and may need to consider new, more efficient options,” said Dirk Lenie, Lindsay vice president of global marketing.

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns for California’s agriculture and dairy industries stems from its lack of efficiency in irrigation – which accounts for 80 percent of the state’s water use.2  According to the USDA’s 2013 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey,3 of the 7.5 million acres of land currently irrigated in California, the vast majority (4.5 million acres) still use flood (gravity flow systems) for irrigation, with 2.3 million acres using gravity systems exclusively. When you consider that flood irrigation uses up to 45 percent more water4 and is 40-50 percent less efficient than other methods such as center pivots5 –which provide up to 95 percent efficiency4 - there is clearly a need to re-evaluate current practices.

What’s more, flood irrigation systems are less precise and require more manual labor, adding to California’s already high labor costs, which, according to the USDA,3  are some of the highest in the country at $495, 111 million annually. Embracing more precise irrigation technologies like center pivots can save California growers up to 75 percent on labor costs due to remote management and increase yields by up to 50 percent, putting more money back into their pockets.4

“Years ago, gravity flow systems worked well in California due to a lack of technology paired with an abundance of water and inexpensive labor. That’s come full circle now and it’s imperative that growers are open to newer forms of irrigation if they expect to use their limited resources wisely and stay sustainable.” said Lenie. 

And research shows that when it comes to pursuing new forms of irrigation, the time to act is now.  Based on models used by the University of California, direct losses in agricultural revenue in 2014 could be $1.6 billion, with the total economic impact reaching $5 billion.6

According to University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Jeff Mitchell, California growers simply can’t afford to ignore automated center pivot systems any longer. “New technology advances make them more advantageous for California, “says Mitchell.7

Center pivots also offer environmental benefits for the state, as they have the ability to utilize reclaimed water for irrigation and produce less water/chemical waste due to their precise applications, thereby decreasing the chances of contaminating nearby water sources. In addition, they use less energy, reducing more than one third (36%) of all energy costs.4

Lindsay’s team of irrigation experts will be in attendance at the 2015 World Ag Expo, which will take place February 10-12 at the International Agri-Center in Tulare, CA. Dirk Lenie will present “Converting from Flood/Furrow to Pivot Irrigation,” February 12, 11:30- 11:50 a.m. at the World Ag Expo Seminar Center.

For more information about the benefits of center pivots in California or to schedule an interview with the Lindsay team, please stop by booth L40 at the event or contact Kathleen Al-Marhoon at (402) 968-0517,

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