It is simple in design and has been around several centuries, but refinements made to gravity flow irrigation by researchers at Clemson University may help small acreage U.S. farmers and will be a crop saver, if not a life saver for Afghan farmers.

A 16-foot tower and a 400 gallon water tank, adorned with a South Carolina Watermelon Board flag, and a four-foot tower with a smaller tank were used to apply water to a field of watermelons at the Edisto Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Blackville, S.C.

That researchers at the Clemson research facility would be conducting irrigation studies isn’t so unusual. That they began the study and built the irrigation tower to help train a team of National Guardsmen on their way to Afghanistan makes the project a bit unique.

Modern drip irrigation systems used to irrigate vegetable crops in the U.S. require a source of electricity to drive the pumps that move the irrigation water. In Afghanistan, rural electricity isn’t available.

The Clemson researchers had to develop an irrigation system that could be used without electricity, so they developed a gravity flow system that was first used by Central American Indians well over a thousand years ago.