Desert Research and Extension Center
Desert Research and Extension Center
Desert Research and Extension Center
University of California
Desert Research and Extension Center

Irrigation and Fertilizer Management

Drip Irrigation of Sugarbeet in the Imperial Valley


Can drip irrigation save water and also help improve nitrogen

management of sugarbeets? Will it be cost effective?


Steve Kaffka, Khaled Bali, and Oli Bachie


Sugar beets are a deep rooted crop well-adapted to the Imperial Valley. They are

planted in fall and harvested starting until April and until mid-July. Average yields

are the highest in the world, but water use for full season beets can be high. They

are susceptible to root rots in the hot weather at the end of the growing season.

Drip irrigation is becoming increasingly more common in the central Valley of

California, but is still uncommon in the Imperial Valley. With drought affecting

the state and the entire Colorado River System, improved water use efficiency

may make drip irrigation a prudent choice in the Imperial Valley. This trial

investigates the performance of drip irrigation systems for sugarbeet in the IV.


Automation of Surface Irrigation systems


Khaled Bali, Irrigation/water Management Advisor, UCCE-Imperial, 760-352-9474,

Alan Jackson, Tom Gill, Dale Lentz, US Bureau of Reclamation, Yuma, AZ and Denver CO.


Surface irrigation is the primary method of irrigation in the Imperial Valley. In excess of 95% of the 500,000 acres of the irrigated agriculture are either irrigated by border or furrow irrigation systems. The majority of water losses through these systems are either by surface runoff (approximately 17% of applied water) or through leaching (approximately 13-17% of applied water). In the heavy clay soils of the Imperial Valley, early cutoff irrigation method can be used to reduce surface runoff and conserve water. However, the cutoff time can vary from 60 to 90% of the field length depending on irrigation flow rate, crop roughness, and field characteristics. Determining the time of irrigation to reduce surface runoff and increase irrigation efficiency could be achieved by automating the irrigation system.  The automation involves the use of wetting front advance sensors, flumes, and electronic timing control gates to determine the irrigation time. Automation of surface irrigation systems increases irrigation efficiency and reduces the cost of labor and water to growers. This demonstration and applied research project is designed to document the potential savings in water and the costs associated with automation of surface irrigation system in the Valley. Calibration and testing of the automated system will be done at DREC. The site at DREC will be used as demonstration site and location for future educational activities about surface irrigation automation.  This project will demonstrate the potential use of innovative automation technology in water conservation to increase irrigation efficiency and demonstrate the use of this technology to growers in the Imperial Valley.


The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the Imperial Valley; it is the only source of irrigation and drinking water in the Imperial Valley. As much as 2.8 million acre-feet of Colorado River water are used every year to irrigate more than 500,000 acres of lands in the Imperial Valley. Surface and subsurface drainage water from irrigated fields enters the Salton Sea which serves as a drainage sink for the Imperial and Coachella Valleys since its formation in 1905. Surface irrigation is the primary method of irrigation in the Valley. In excess of 95% of the irrigated acreages in the Valley are either irrigated by border or furrow irrigation systems. The majority of water losses through these systems are either by surface runoff (approximately 17% of applied water) or through leaching (approximately 13-17% of applied water).


Growers in the Imperial Valley under continuous pressure to conserve water and to comply with water quality regulation. Automation of surface irrigation systems will improve water use efficiency and reduce the losses of runoff water. Research and demonstration projects conducted by the University of California with assistance from USBR-Yuma Area Office have shown that surface irrigation systems in the Valley can be managed to achieve high efficiency. Automation of surface irrigation systems may result in substantial savings in water in excess of 5-10% of applied water.


Determining irrigation cutoff time is often difficult when irrigators irrigate at night and when water flow rates change during the irrigation event. These major problems could be virtually eliminated if the irrigation system is automated.  The average water use in Imperial Valley is approximately 6.1 ac-ft/ac. Approximately 17% of this water (1 ac-ft/ac) ends as surface runoff. With the automation of surface irrigation systems, runoff rates could be reduced from 17% to less than 10%. The potential benefits of this project are:

-     Reduction in operating costs (savings in labor and water).

-     Reduces energy cost, automation of surface irrigation eliminates the need to switch to more water efficient pressurized systems that require much more energy.

-     Improvement in crop yield, over irrigating alfalfa fields contributes to scalding and yield losses at the end of the field.

-           Technical training and water conservation education to growers and irrigators on water management practices to improve water use efficiency.  


Nitrogen fertilizer best management Practices for the low desert crop production systems


Oli Bachie, UCCE Assistant Agronomy Advisor, Imperial, CA. 760-352-9474

Khaled Bali, UCCE, Irrigation/water Management Advisor, Imperial, CA .

 Vonny Barlow, UCCE, Entomology IPM Advisor. Blythe, CA.

Jose Aguiar, UCCE, Farm Advisor. Indio, CA.,


Nitrogen fertilizers are required for quality crop production. Sudangrass is one of the major crops in the low desert, particularly the Imperial Valley. The recommended fertilizer dose for quality sudangrass production in the low desert is about 100 lb N as pre-plant and 50-60 lb N applied to the crop after each cutting.  Typically there are 3-4 cuttings per cropping cycle.  However, many growers usually use higher N fertilizers in order to maximize yield from this crop, often exceeding the amount needed by the crop. While there are various researches on the N use efficiency (NUE) of most crops, not much has been done on best fertilizer management options on Sudangrass, although this crop is widely grown in the low desert. Crop NUE can be influenced by N availability and the ability of the plant to move N from roots to the leaves and stems, crop variety, the soil, fertilizer application and irrigation methods.  The nitrogen that is not taken up by crops can result in nitrate contamination of ground and surface water and can contribute to environmental problems. We propose to develop improved N management strategies for the sudangrass production in the low desert. Improved fertilizer management practices would allow efficient use of N by a crop reducing N losses to the environment, improving crop quality and maximizing growers’ economic return. 

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