What is Spray Irrigation?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Spray irrigation is a form of irrigation in which pressurized water is sprayed over plants to provide them with water. This type of irrigation is also sometimes called sprinkler irrigation, and it is very widely used all over the world. Many people think specifically of spray irrigation when they visualize an irrigation system, and irrigation systems of all sizes can be designed to work in this way, ranging from a home sprinkler to keep a lawn green to industrial sized sprinklers used to irrigate crops.

Water for crop spray irrigation systems can come from wells, reservoirs, rivers, lakes, and streams.
Water for crop spray irrigation systems can come from wells, reservoirs, rivers, lakes, and streams.

With a spray irrigation system, the irrigation sprinklers may be fixed in place, or located on movable frames. Some sprinkler heads will only spray in one direction, requiring careful placement, while others will rotate as they spray, delivering water across a broader area. Rotating heads are often preferred because it allows for the installation of a single sprinkler array to cover a big area.

Sources of water for spray irrigation vary. Some cities encourage the utilization of treated wastewater. This is an environmentally friendly choice which reduces the demand for fresh water, nourishes the plants, and reduces wastewater runoff into waterways. Treated wastewater can be used on ornamental crops and landscaping, but it may be banned for use on crops, depending on where in the world one is. Water for crops can come from wells, reservoirs, rivers, lakes, and streams.

The big disadvantage to spray irrigation is that it requires a lot of water. As the water is sprayed, some is blown away and some evaporates, requiring more water delivery to ensure that plants get enough water. Water may also flow faster than the soil can take it up, and because spray irrigation does not deliver precisely targeted jets of water, a great deal of water ends up nowhere near the plants being watered, which is wasteful. This is costly, and also environmentally unfriendly, as water may be diverted away from natural areas in need of water to feed the requirement for water supplies on farms.

An alternative method involves low pressure spray irrigation accomplished with hanging pipes. Instead of spraying water up and over, the pipes allow water to flow straight down. This requires less pressure and less water, conserving energy and water supplies. For even more efficiency, a drip irrigation system can be used, although such systems are expensive to install and maintain, which can become a major obstacle for gardeners and farms considering this alternative irrigation method.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@zsazsa56 - Absolutely you can buy used irrigation equipment. Most large scale farm equipment can be bought and soled in a system pretty similar to cars. You can buy it new and used and there are specialized dealers for both. Talk to some of your neighbors and do a little research about the surrounding area. I'm sure you will have no problems finding a quality dealer of used far equipment somewhere close to where you are


Is it possible to buy used irrigation equipment? I just bought a small farm and need bigger tools than what I have. I'm hoping to get the cheapest irrigation supplies I can.


Water shortages are a big issue right now and will only become more important moving into the future. The water that we use to irrigate crops plays a big part in that. Predictably, it takes a huge amount of water to grow all the crops that this nation consumes. If we are going to fix out water problem, we have to find ways to irrigate more efficiently.

We can do this in two way. They first is to develop more efficient sprinkler systems and water transportation methods that maximize the effect of the water being used. The second solution is to reduce our water usage by eliminating particularly thirsty crops.

We crow ridiculous amounts of corn just to feed to cows and turn into sugary syrup. Corn takes a ton of water to grow and the heavy emphasis on this crop puts a huge strain on the water supply. Less corn, more water. Seems like a good idea to me.


@Ivan83 - I know what you mean. Those sprinklers are as common as tractors. They are everywhere around where I live. Some people have old ones and some people have brand new ones but they pretty much all look the same. I guess the design must work.


I have lived my entire life in the Midwest and have many vivid memories of looking out over fields and seeing the gigantic sprinkler systems that farmers fairy around their land endlessly.

There is something about the way they look that always stuck in my head. The look both smooth and simple and also spindly and vaguely menacing at the same time. I know it sounds strange, but they just don't look like anything else. When I think about farmland I almost think of these more quickly that rolling hills and sprouting crops.

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