In the beating sun, in what looks like the middle of nowhere, University of Arizona researchers were hard at work, drilling into the fields at the Maricopa Agricultural Center.

The group was installing equipment that measures soil moisture after irrigation.

It’s all part of the UA’s $63 million project the Cooperative Extension which helps improve farming practices by figuring out when and how much water to apply to different crops.

The long term goal? Saving Tucson’s water supply.

The basic idea is to test the three [irrigation] systems with different crops along three years, said Irrigation Specialist Diaa Elshikha. They’re testing pressurized/gravity drip, center pivot, and flood irrigation systems.

Right now, most farmers use flooding to water the fields, but UA research thus far suggests there are far better ways when it comes to conserving water usage, increasing land longevity and even improving crop yield.

The program is hoping that we can save at least 20 percent, but from past experience with the drip system, you can save 75 percent of water and still get the same yield,” he explained.”

Separately, the program brought in company Desert Control to further their research efforts. The objective is testing how well soil maintains moisture after mixing in clay.

Desert Control Soil Scientist Shaddy Alshraah said the clay makes the soil more nutrient-dense, which in turn helps crops grow better.

Were adding the missing component of the soil structure,” he said. “Soil is like a bank account. If you keep taking out from that bank account, youre going to deplete it. So you have to add back.

These methods are still being tested but the program has already seen a lot of success, so far saving nearly 36.5K acre-feet of water.

To put that in context, that is more water than what 400,000 Tucsonans drink in a year,” said Ethan Orr, Director of Agriculture with the cooperative. That’s about 75 percent of the entire city’s population.

Pinal County farmer Craig Zinke is one who can attest to the methods that are already tried and true.

Through the Water Irrigation Efficiency Program, run by the university extension, he received funding to install pivots (a self-run circular irrigation system) on his 660 acres of land.

For each acre, UArizona gave him $1,500. He’s one of over 60 farmers, in 11 of the 15 counties, to participate in the program.

Its designed right and theres not much maintenance on these things, he said pointing out into the fields.

Zinke said it’s allowed him to reduce his carbon footprint and cut down on labor costs as he’s the only one who needs to manage the pivots. He demonstrated that it’s as simple as the flick of a switch.

He used to flood his fields, but now expects to save at least 30 percent of water with his new system.

Back in the day, we used to farm the whole property with flood irrigation, but now we dont get any Colorado River water,” Zinke noted. “The amount of water they give me now is very minimal, so I have to make use of what I have.

To learn more about the program and apply for grants, visit