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When we think about getting the most out of irrigation water, efficiency is often the word that comes to mind. Yes, we do need to apply water in an efficient manner, but there are different ways to relate efficiency to irrigation.
First, consider efficiency as it relates to water application. The goal when irrigating is to provide water to a growing plant. But if any of the water runs off of the field or moves below the plants’ root system, application efficiency is reduced because the water that runs off cannot be used by the plant. This is the primary reason that application efficiency of furrow irrigation systems is less than that of sprinkler systems. So whether we use furrow or sprinkler, keeping the water on the field and limiting deep percolation helps to improve efficiency.