The Role of Windbreaks in Reducing Water Resources Use in Irrigated Agriculture

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Thomas A Cochrane and Tonny T de Vries, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
Windbreaks are common features in flat agricultural landscapes around the world. The reduction in wind speed afforded by windbreaks is dictated by their porosity, location, height, and distance from the windbreak. The reduction in wind speeds not only reduces potential wind erosion; it also reduces crop evapotranspiration (ET) and provides shelter for livestock and crops. In the Canterbury plains of New Zealand there are over 300,000 km of windbreaks which were first implemented as a soil conservation strategy to reduce wind erosion of prime agricultural land. Agriculture in the region has since changed to irrigated pasture cultivation for dairy production and windbreaks are being cut down or reduced to heights of 2 m to allow for large scale centre-pivot irrigation schemes. Although soil erosion is no longer a major concern due to permanent pasture cover, irrigation water is sourced from limited supplies of ground and surface water and thus the effects of wind on irrigation losses due to spray drift and increased ET are of significant concern. The impact of reducing windbreaks needs to be understood in terms of water resources use. Experimental and theoretical work was conducted to quantify the reduction in wind speeds by windbreaks and in spray evaporation losses. A temporal and spatial model was also developed and validated to quantify the impact of single and multiple windbreaks on irrigation water losses. Initial modelling results show that for hot windy dry conditions in Canterbury, ET can increase by up to 1.4 mm/day when windbreaks are reduced to 2 m in height and on average wind days ET can increase by up to 0.5 mm/day. ET can be reduced by up to 30% in the windbreak leeward zone relative to ET in areas not protected by windbreaks. Wind speed, air temperature and relative humidity all had a considerable impact on spray evaporation losses, but the extent is determined by the droplet size. Estimated losses range from only 0.07% to 67% for 5 and 0.2 mm droplet sizes respectively. Preliminary measurements of typical irrigation spray nozzles with a range of drop sizes show losses of up to 30% under high wind conditions. Potential reduction in ground and surface water resources use for irrigation can be significant if windbreaks are maintained by using irrigation systems that can be adapted to work within windbreaks.