Farmer Education Workshop: Irrigation for Small Farms

In July we hosted an informative workshop on irrigation for small farms at our Community Farm to educate farmers and others about optimizing water use. This workshop — led by Community Farm and Food Associate Chris Link, WNC FarmLink Director Suzanna Dennison, and Chris McWhorter of the W.P. Law Agriculture Division — covered important questions to ask when considering irrigation, irrigation system components, and the mathematics required to calculate accurate measurements for an irrigation system.

Chris Link introduced the workshop by describing the installation of irrigation pipes at the Community Farm.

“We have a well, but we were not generating enough gallons per minute (gpm) from the existing well pump to grow the way we wanted,” he explained. “This caused challenges when Incubator Program farmers needed to water an entire field because of lack of rainfall. So, we made the decision to invest in upgrading the Community Farm’s existing well pipes to reach the goal of 25 gpm at a much more affordable rate.”

Workshop attendees consisted of both landowners and land seekers, with landowner farm size ranging from one to twenty-five acres. The water source for a piece of land is an important aspect for beginning and expanding farmers to consider. 

Suzanna discussed the challenge of land access and water usage for these farmers. “Landowners and retiring farmers want their land stewarded, and this is where beginning and expanding farmers come into play,” she said. “It is also important to consider the location because water culture varies regionally.”

Chris McWhorter delved into the basics of typical drip system layouts. Doing this work for eleven years, he knows the most crucial questions to ask when planning to install an irrigation system.

“What are we irrigating and where is the water? How are we irrigating? Do we have electricity? How will the system be controlled?” he asked. “For example, solar can be good to power small operations — otherwise diesel and gas are good options.” He explained system design, filtration, and factors affecting irrigation requirements. These factors include soil type, slope, sunlight, humidity, temperature, and more.

This workshop was another successful addition to our Farmer Education workshop series. Thank you to Chris McWhorter and Suzanna Dennison for helping lead this discussion!

SAHC’s Farmer Education Workshop Series is funded in part by a grant from The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2016-70017-25341  for Farm Pathways:  Integrating Farmer Training with Land Access. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.