For those who have never been to Val Marie, one might say that the area is dry or arid, others might come right out and say we are a little piece of desert in Canada. Either way, as producers of crops and cattle, water is always part of our equation. Do we have enough? Will it rain enough? How will we get water when it gets ‘too dry’?
As early as the 1850s, John Pallisar noted the unusually dry conditions of southwestern Saskatchewan, and by the beginning of the 20th century when settlers were headed west, irrigation was being discussed. Today, irrigation is part of every growing season, and in a lot of cases, completely necessary for adequate production. June is prime irrigation month as we prepare for the dry, hot days of summer ahead.
What is irrigation?
Irrigation is the purposeful application of water to a specific area to increase soil moisture in an effort to maximize growth of a crop (hay, grains, oil seeds). In short, when you are watering your garden, you are irrigating on a much smaller scale.
How do we irrigate?
At Grant Ranch we work with 1 main irrigation system, flood irrigation, but use two different methods of getting the water onto the field.
Flood irrigation is exactly like it sounds – water flooding a field to increase moisture. In all cases, we only flood areas that are maturely rooted hay crops.
Our first method of flooding is done by the way of pumping. This is done with the help of naturally occurring run-off water from the winter snow melt. We use a pump powered by a tractor to get the water onto the field. As you can see by the photo, the field is a small distance away from the water source.
The next method is using a system of dams that were created through provincial initiatives to provide more water to more people. This system relies on a dam to collect water, the water is released at a specific time, and the patrons irrigating off of it to maintain ditches and dykes for the water to get to their field.
Both of these techniques of irrigating are done once per growing season. The irrigation project can provide a second irrigation event if there is sufficient water available.
Other Methods of Irrigation
There are other methods of irrigation, such as a pivot irrigation system, which is more like the conventional sprinkler on a garden. The pivot will provide a small amount of water daily opposed to a large amount once per season. A pivot irrigation system will use a more conservative amount of water, but flood irrigation is what we have access to at Grant Ranch.
The Water Factor
Overall, alternative sources of water are essential for a productive hay crop in this dry part of the west.
To read about the Saskatchewan Irrigation Benefit Evaluation, click here.
To learn more about the Saskatchewan Irrigation Project and its history, click here.
To learn more about the current state of the Irrigation Project, click here.
To learn more about the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency, please click here.