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    Arizona Cotton: Drip Irrigation Pioneer Wuertz Honored By Ag Engineer Society

    Howard Wuertz of Coolidge, Arizona-based Sundance Farms

    Arizona cotton farmer Howard Wuertzhas been named the recipient of the third annual Netafim Award for Advancement in Microirrigation. Wuertz is the managing partner of Sundance Farms in Coolidge, Arizona, and has “made significant contributions toward the utilization and adaptation of microirrigation technology,” according to a press release from Netafim. The award is presented by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.

    Often referred to as the “father of subsurface drip irrigation” in America, Wuertz holds multiple patents on equipment he designed to implement the system on a wide basis. Sundance Farms currently operates on 3,200 acres. He first adopted subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) in cotton production and then later expanded the systems to other row crops.

    From early on, Wuertz developed a pragmatic “systems approach” to subsurface drip irrigation.

    “We realized a long time ago that successful farming in the dry Arizona desert is not only about using water more efficiently, but about being more productive with the resources we have,” he said in the announcement. “SDI has allowed us to boost our productivity per acre with less water than traditional irrigation methods.”

    With SDI, he reduced on-farm water use by up to 50%, increased yields and improved the quality of marginal soils, Wuertz quickly realized that subsurface drip irrigation also necessitated the development of special machinery for minimum tillage. In response, he designed several implements for cotton stalk destruction, drip tubing installation and tillage operations. In all, he holds 5 patents.

    Those implements made it possible for driplines to be installed and used for many years and for a broad range of crops to be grown on a permanently buried dripline, eliminating the need and associated cost of annual removal and replacement of the dripline.

    “Necessity is the mother of invention, and there may be no better example of recognizing and adapting to environmental challenges than Howard Wuertz,” said Ze’ev Barylka, Marketing Director for Netafim USA. “We are inspired by his commitment to sustainable farming in a region with a harsh and often unforgiving climate. His approach to overcoming barriers goes hand-in-hand with the philosophy upon which Netafim was founded over 50 years ago. Howard is a perfect fit for this award.”

    Throughout his career, Wuertz has generously shared his knowledge with other farmers and engineers, and still hosts many visitors from all over the world at Sundance Farms. While governor of Arizona, Bruce Babbitt sought Wuertz’s expertise on water conservation and invited him to join a committee that developed a plan for conserving water that led to the development of the Groundwater Management Act.

    For a number of years, he worked in the Farm Credit System and has been actively involved at local, state and federal levels on conservation and resource issues in agriculture.




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