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Number of farms with irrigated crops

In 2010, 7,685 farms irrigated their crops. The majority of irrigating farms were located in British Columbia (40%), followed by Alberta (30%) and Ontario (13%) (Table 2-1). The South Saskatchewan drainage region (Map 3) had the highest number of irrigating farms with 2,435 farms irrigating their crops. The Fraser-Lower Mainland and Okanagan-Similkameen drainage regions also had a large number of farms that irrigated crops, with 1,360 and 1,115 irrigating farms, respectively (Table 2-2).

Hay was the most irrigated crop type, with 2,870 farms having irrigated hay. Improved pasture was the least irrigated crop type, with only 1,160 farms irrigating this crop type (Table 1).

There was a drop in the number of farms with irrigated crops from 10,470 in 2007 to 7,685 in 2010. This decrease was particularly marked in Ontario, where the number of farms with irrigated crops fell from 1,990 in 2007 to 995 in 2010. The decrease is due to the amount of rainfall received by the province. Over the 2007 growing season (April 1 to October 1), the south-east region of the province received 85% or less of its average precipitation while over a similar time period in 2010, the region received 85% to 150% of its average precipitation (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2010). 1 

Irrigation volume

In 2010, 838 million cubic metres of water were used for irrigation. The majority of this water was used in Alberta (59%) and British Columbia (28%) (Table 5-1, Map 1). More than 60% of irrigation water was used in the South Saskatchewan drainage region (Map 2).

The average volume of water used for irrigation per farm also varied by province. It was highest in Manitoba and Alberta at approximately 245,000 cubic metres and 216,000 cubic metres, respectively, and lowest in Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic region, with those farms using around 20,000 cubic metres to irrigate their crops in 2010 (Table 6-1).

Farms in the combined Winnipeg, Lower Saskatchewan-Nelson, Churchill drainage regions used the most water for irrigation, approximately 292,000 cubic metres, on average, in 2010. Farms in the Ottawa drainage region used the least, applying just under 13,000 cubic metres of water (Table 6-2).

The amount of water used for irrigation dropped by almost half (44%) between 2007 and 2010. 2  This was particularly true of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, which saw 67%, 65% and 55% decreases in the volume of water used for irrigation, respectively. As mentioned earlier, south-eastern Ontario experienced a dry growing season in 2007, contributing to more irrigation that year. In addition, Saskatchewan and Alberta experienced a wetter than average growing season in 2010, resulting in relatively low irrigation in 2010 (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2010).

Just over half (52%) of all the water used for irrigation in 2010 was used to irrigate field crops. Another 31% was used to irrigate hay while only 17% of irrigation water was used for vegetables, fruit crops and improved pasture (Table 3).

There was a peak in irrigation use in the late summer months (Chart 1). Just under 24% of irrigation water was used in the months of April, May and June while the bulk of irrigation water was used in July (39%) and August (29%) (Table 3). This irrigation profile was true for all five crop types and in all provinces.

Irrigation intensity (the volume of water used for irrigation per unit area) varied widely by crop type. Vegetable crops received only 867 cubic metres/ha of irrigation while fruit crops received 3,123 cubic metres/ha. Irrigation intensity also varied by province. In Alberta, hay crops received 1,537 cubic metres/ha of irrigation while in British Columbia hay crops received 3,371 cubic metres/ha (Table 4-1). This disparity in irrigation intensity for hay is due in part to differences in the precipitation received by the two provinces over the growing season.

There was also a wide variation in the average volume of irrigation water used per farm. On average, farms used 109,128 cubic metres of water for irrigation, regardless of crop type. Farms with field crops used the most water for irrigation, applying 164,548 cubic metres of water, while the average fruit farm applied 22,106 cubic metres to its crops (Table 6-1).

Area of irrigated land 3 

There were 528,570 hectares of irrigated land in Canada in 2010 (Table 7-1), compared to 721,896 hectares in 2007. This represents a more than 25% decrease in irrigated land between the two time periods.

Alberta had the most irrigated land in 2010 with 356,500 hectares (67% of total irrigated land) while the Atlantic region had the least with 1,880 hectares (Table 7-1, Chart 2). The average Canadian farm irrigated 69 hectares of land. The average farm in Manitoba irrigated 161 hectares while the average farm in the Atlantic region irrigated 11 hectares of land (Table 8-1).

Of all the drainage regions, the South Saskatchewan drainage region had the most irrigated land (380,070 ha) while the Ottawa drainage region had the least (1,110 ha) (Table 7-2). Farms in the combined Winnipeg, Lower Saskatchewan-Nelson, Churchill drainage regions had the highest average irrigated areas at 191 hectares of land while, on average, farms in the combined North Shore-Gaspé, Saint John-St. Croix, Maritime Coastal, Newfoundland-Labrador drainage regions irrigated 12 hectares of land each (Table 8-2).

Field crops were grown on the majority of irrigated land in 2010. Irrigated field crops were grown on 328,870 hectares of land, while only 15,950 hectares of fruit crops were irrigated (Table 7-1). The average field crop farm irrigated 123 hectares of field crops compared to the seven hectares of fruit crops irrigated on fruit farms (Table 8-1).

Irrigation methods

There are three different categories of irrigation methods: sprinkler, micro and surface irrigation. Sprinkler systems distribute water onto crops in a high-velocity, high-volume spray. Micro irrigation systems deliver water onto the soil surface very close to the crop or below the soil. With surface irrigation, also known as flood irrigation, the water flows by gravity over land.

As it was in 2007, sprinkler irrigation was by far the most popular irrigation method in 2010, with it being used on just over 6,000 farms. 1,540 farms used surface irrigation methods and 1,480 used micro irrigation (Table 9-2). Farms in British Columbia were the biggest users of sprinkler irrigation with more than 2,500 farms in that province using that method. British Columbia farms were also the biggest users of micro irrigation (815 farms) and Alberta farms were the largest users of surface irrigation (660 farms) (Table 9-2).

Farms in the South Saskatchewan drainage region were the biggest users of sprinkler and surface irrigation, with 2,075 farms using sprinklers and 700 farms using surface irrigation methods. Meanwhile, farms in the Okanagan-Similkameen drainage region were the biggest users of micro irrigation with 485 farms using this irrigation method (Table 9-3).

Irrigation methods differed by crop type. While sprinkler irrigation was the most common irrigation method for all crop types, micro irrigation was just as common as sprinkler irrigation for fruit crops (Chart 3). However, micro irrigation was the least common for field crops and vegetable crops and it was not used at all for hay crops (Table 9-1). One reason for this is that sprinkler irrigation is well-suited for irrigating large areas: the average irrigated field crop area per farm was 123 hectares in 2010, as opposed to seven hectares for fruit crops (Table 8-1).

Irrigation practices

Energy or water conservation practices 4 

A variety of energy or water conservation methods were practiced on farms in 2010. As in 2007, the most widespread practice was watering crops at night or in the morning (3,695 farms), followed by the use of water or energy saving nozzles (2,685 farms). However, in 2010, 1,955 farms did not practice any energy or water saving methods, up from 960 farms in 2007 (Table 10-1). This increase could be related to the fact that fewer farms irrigated in 2010 than in 2007 therefore water conservation practices like watering at night or in the morning or pressure reduction would not apply.

The uptake of the various energy or water conservation practices differed between the provinces and drainage regions. The practices of leaving stubble on fields, pressure reduction and using water or energy saving nozzles were most common in Alberta and the South Saskatchewan drainage region. Watering at night or in the morning was most common in British Columbia and the Fraser-Lower Mainland drainage region and wind breaks were most common in Ontario and the Great Lakes drainage region (Table 10-1, Table 10-2).

Not irrigating or stopping irrigation 5 

Over the 2010 growing season, a number of farms either did not irrigate or stopped irrigating at some point during the growing season because the crop did not require irrigation, because of water shortages, or for other reasons. In 2010, 4,985 farms did not irrigate or stopped irrigating, slightly up from 4,850 farms in 2007. The majority of these farms were in Alberta (1,845 farms) and British Columbia (1,425 farms). On the other hand, 3,875 farms did keep irrigating over the growing season (Table 11-1).

The number of farms that either did not irrigate or stopped irrigating during the growing season varied greatly by drainage region, from 20 farms in the Ottawa drainage region to 1,920 farms in the South Saskatchewan drainage region (Table 11-2).

The most common reason for not irrigating or stopping irrigation was that the crop did not need it; 3,540 farms stopped irrigating for this reason. 2,025 farms also stated other reasons for stopping irrigation such as a shortage of water or irrigation equipment failure, among others (Table 11-1).

Irrigation water sources 6 

Farms drew their water for irrigation from a variety of sources. In 2010, 3,260 farms obtained at least some of their water for irrigation from on-farm lakes and rivers while 1,555 drew at least some of their water from an underground well and 3,705 farms procured at least some of their irrigation water from off-farm sources 7  (Table 12-1).

Alberta and British Columbia farms were the most common users of off-farm water. In Alberta, 2,005 farms obtained some of their water from off-farm sources and in British Columbia, 1,315 farms did the same. For all other provinces (except Saskatchewan), on-farm surface water 8  was the major water source (Table 12-1).

Irrigation water sources also varied by drainage region. More farms in the Fraser-Lower Mainland drainage region utilized on-farm water – both surface water (760 farms) and groundwater (475 farms) – than in any other drainage region. Farms in the South Saskatchewan drainage region made the most use of off-farm water with 2,110 farms obtaining at least some of their water from off-farm sources (Table 12-2).

Sources of off-farm water ranged from tap water to provincial water sources such as irrigation districts. 9  By far, the most common source of off-farm water was provincial sources. Of all the farms using off-farm water supplies, 2,860 of these farms received at least some of their water from provincial sources, 525 farms used at least some tap water for irrigation and 55 farms used at least some treated wastewater (Table 13).

The majority of farms using provincial water sources were in Alberta where 1,895 farms used this water source. Farms in British Columbia were the main users of tap water with 435 farms receiving at least some of their off-farm water from this source (Table 13). The most common reason for using off-farm water was that there was not enough water available on the farm (Table 14).

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