Joe Del Bosque, president of Del Bosque Farms, Inc., inspects a water hose used for drip irrigation in his almond orchard in Firebaugh, California.

Joe Del Bosque, president of Del Bosque Farms, Inc., inspects a water hose used for drip irrigation in his almond orchard in Firebaugh, California. In March 2015, California lawmakers approved legislation sought by Governor Jerry Brown that committed $1 billion to addressing the drought gripping the most populous U.S. state for a fourth year.

Farm Irrigation Efficiency

Reduce SourcesFood, Agriculture, and Land UseShift Agriculture Practices
CO2 Equivalent
Reduced / Sequestered
Billion $US
Net First Cost
(To Implement Solution)
Billion $US
Lifetime Net
Operational Savings
Pumping and distributing water is energy intensive. Drip and sprinkler irrigation, among other practices and technologies, make farm water use more precise and efficient.

Solution Summary*

Irrigation dates back to roughly 6000 BC, when the waters of the Nile and Tigris-Euphrates were first diverted to feed farmers’ fields. Today, agriculture consumes 70 percent of the world’s freshwater resources, and irrigation is essential for 40 percent of the world’s food production. Because pumping and distributing water requires large quantities of energy, irrigation is a source of carbon emissions.

Irrigation technologies have evolved to help farmers use water more precisely and efficiently. Both drip and sprinkler methods make water application more exact, delivering as precisely as possible the amount crops need to thrive. With 70 to 90 percent application efficiency, they reduce overall water and energy consumption.

The benefits of drip and sprinkler irrigation are numerous: crop yields improve, costs drop, and soil erosion declines. Lower humidity curtails pests. Surface and groundwater resources are better protected, and conflicts among various stakeholders for water resources may ease. However, both systems require infrastructure and upkeep, which can be expensive, sometimes prohibitively so.

Other practices and technologies can also be effective. Irrigation scheduling and deficit irrigation are two methods of variable application. Sensors can monitor soil moisture and control irrigation systems automatically. Rainwater and runoff can also be captured and put to use.

* excerpted from the book, Drawdown

At present, use of sprinkler and drip irrigation varies widely around the world, from 50 percent of area in high-income countries to 7 percent in lower-income countries in Asia and Africa. Our analysis assumes the area under improved irrigation grows from 53.8 million hectares in 2018 to 187.7-286.5 million hectares in 2050. The highest adoption increases would occur in Asia, where 62 percent of total irrigated area is located and currently only 7 percent of that land is under micro-irrigation. This growth could avoid 1.1-2.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions and save 37-68 billion gallons of water and $535-939 billion operational cost in the lifetime with an initial cost of $223-387 billion.