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The Basics: Getting Ready to Drip Irrigate Your Nursery, Greenhouse or Farm

What is Drip Irrigation?

Drip irrigation is about delivering water, nutrients and chemicals where you want them, when you want them. Using a network of pipes, laterals and emitters, a drip system releases water and nutrients uniformly, through precision manufactured emitters, directly into the root zone. Near-optimum soil moisture levels are maintained and rapid response can be made to a variety of crop needs.

Drip irrigation can refer to networks of polyethylene laterals with online emitters installed along their length to irrigate orchards, vineyards or greenhouses. Or to thick-wall drip tubes with built-in integral emitters ("drip lines") for irrigating row crops, orchards or vineyards.  Finally, thin-wall "drip tapes" with built-in emitters irrigate vegetables, hemp and other seasonal crops. In the nursery world, although spray stakes such as the Spot-Spitter are technically micro sprayers, they offer many of the same characteristics as drip irrigation and are therefore often referred to as "nursery drip". In all of these categories, both non-compensating and pressure compensating products are available.

The precise delivery of water and nutrients made possible by drip irrigation gives you a level of control over the soil environment that is not possible with other forms of irrigation. This means better control of crop health, water and fertilizer usage, harvest time and your bottom line. Following are some of the many benefits reported by growers who have converted from sprinkler and furrow irrigation to drip irrigation:

  • improved crop yield, quality, and uniformity
  • better control over harvest time and market timing
  • reduced water consumption
  • reduced energy consumption
  • reduced cost of chemicals and fertilizer
  • reduced field-labor cost
  • reduced disease
  • better weed control
  • better utilization of uneven terrain
  • more land can be utilized if water is a limiting factor
  • reduced environmental impact from runoff and percolation of chemicals, fertilizers, and salts

This is a remarkable set of benefits for any single technology to deliver. However, it is only with careful attention and commitment to the unique requirements of your drip system that you can enjoy its many potential benefits. 

Is Drip Irrigation for You?

Each year large numbers of growers around the world convert from traditional irrigation methods to drip irrigation. Some are attracted by the promise of higher yields, some by higher profits, and some by the simple appeal of using the latest technology. Drip irrigation is capable of delivering on each of these promises. However, you should carefully consider your unique goals and situation when deciding whether drip irrigation will work for you.

 A drip system requires a significant investment in time and money. The first step in this investment begins here, by taking time to become fully informed before initiating your drip irrigation project. Your goals for this “initial investment” in time should be to: 

  • develop awareness about what it takes to design, install, and operate a system
  • determine your ability - financial and otherwise - to proceed
  • assess the level of commitment you are willing to make to develop a properly designed and managed drip irrigation system
  • locate a qualified irrigation dealer with drip experience

You are the most important component in the success of your drip irrigation system. 

GROW IRRIGATION: Grow Irrigation has selected high-quality products from world leading manufacturers to supply to its customers. With products supplied by Grow Irrigation you can be confident in reliability for the long term. 

Cultivating a Long-Term View

Growers are naturally inclined to take a long-term view on things. This common-sense wisdom is especially valuable when applied to the planning of a drip irrigation system. Your initial investment in terms of equipment and know-how may take 2 or more years to recover. However, your investment should be seen not only in terms of crop quality and yield, but as an intelligent response to global trends in diminishing natural resources, reduced government subsidies, and increased environmental regulation. 

Access the Experts

If you are like most growers, you have vast experience with farming and irrigation practices. You recognize the value of this accumulated expertise and probably would not think of irrigating your fields without applying that knowledge to get the best result. If you are new to drip irrigation, you can be sure there is a great deal to learn - from quick tips and techniques to fundamental changes to your processes. Until you reach a comfortable level of expertise in drip irrigation, it makes sense to get in touch with someone who can share their expertise with you. Start small and grow into your management level. Specifically, you should be prepared to contact qualified experts in hydraulic engineering, filtration, chemical treatment, pest control and installation.

What you learn from these experts in one season will pay off for years to come. In a recent survey of experienced growers, all confirmed the value of becoming fully informed, especially by consulting experts, before initiating their own drip irrigation program. Practice before installing all of your acres.

GROW IRRIGATION: Grow Irrigation’s experts can work with you to review the needs of your farm and help you select and design the right drip system. Talk to Grow Irrigation now to get started on this process. 

Managing New Cultural Practices

Drip irrigation allows precision response to changes in crop need, environmental conditions, and even market timing. All of these benefits require a well-functioning system. Unlike traditional irrigation methods that use fewer, larger applications of water, successful drip irrigation is based on many small applications. This requires a new way of thinking: collecting and recording better and more frequent information on your crop status and water quality, monitoring system performance, and making minor adjustments whenever needed. 

While drip irrigation can deliver significant savings on labor and resource use, you should expect some increase in management time, especially in the first few seasons as you learn to operate the system. There is no substitute for a competent farm manager who fully understands the drip irrigation system and is available to make adjustments as needed.  

Important Cautions and Notes

Observe the following important cautions and notes when designing, installing, and managing your drip irrigation system:

  • Carefully consider all components of your drip irrigation system before installation and use. Consult specialists in irrigation, water quality, pest control, chemicals and other areas as necessary.
  • Always use proper filtration for your water source. Inadequate filtration or filter maintenance may severely damage your drip irrigation system.
  • If using thin-wall drip tape where ground pests are known to be a potential problem, always implement pest controls before installation.
  • Do not step on drip lines or drag them across the soil surface. Ensure that all installation equipment is free of burrs and other sharp edges.
  • When using clear plastic mulch with a drip tape system, always bury the tape.
  • Operate all systems before any planting begins.
  • Chemicals used in irrigation, fertigation, and water treatment can be extremely hazardous. Use extreme caution when mixing, handling, and injecting any chemicals.

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