Drip irrigation is a method that allows water to slowly drip near plant roots through a network of plastic pipes—resulting in precisely controlled water and fertilizer application. Although they may not be appropriate for all farms, properly designed drip-irrigation systems can improve productivity and reducing labor and production costs for small farms.
Small farmers wanting to use a drip-irrigation system should consider the advantages and disadvantages as it relates to their operation.
Advantages of Drip Irrigation
- Drip irrigation reduces water usage because it brings water to the plant root zone (not wetting the entire filed).
- Because drip irrigation doesn’t wet the row middles or crop foliage like overhead irrigation, these systems also reduce weed and disease problems.
- These systems require low operating pressure compared with overhead systems.
- Drip irrigation can improve water and fertilizer efficiency; precise nutrient application is possible, so fertilizer costs and nutrient losses may be reduced.
- A drip system can be automated using an AC or battery-powered controller, which reduces labor costs.
- Drip-irrigation systems adapt to fields with odd shapes, uneven topography, and uneven soil texture.
Disadvantages of Drip Irrigation
- Drip-irrigation systems require a financial investment, typically costing $500 to $1,200 or more per acre. Drip-tape disposal also increases post-harvest costs.
- Drip systems need regular maintenance, and proper management requires a learning period.
- Farming operations, such as tilling and transplanting, can easily cut or damage drip lines.
- Drip tubing may also be lifted by wind or displaced by animals. However, this can be prevented by covering drip tape with mulch, fastening it with wire anchor pins, or lightly covering it with soil.
Adapted and excerpted from:
E. Simonne, R. Hochmuth, J. Breman, W. Lamont, D. Treadwell, and A. Gazula, "Drip-irrigation systems for small conventional vegetable farms and organic vegetable farms (HS1144)," UF/IFAS Horticultural Sciences Department (rev. 4/2012).
“Drip Irrigation,” UF/IFAS Gardening in a Minute (Accessed 12/2013).
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