Pros and Cons to Drip Irrigation

In my latest column in Central Florida Ag News, I discussed how irrigation is an important component of any farm. Drip irrigation is one of the most popular precision irrigation methods, and many Florida farmers are looking to utilize it on their farms. However, to make the best choice for your operation, you’ll need to consider the advantages and disadvantages of drip irrigation.  I explored the factors you should consider when choosing an irrigation management option, and the pros and cons of a drip system in the column. See them below from the perspective of a Florida grower interested in precision irrigation.

Advantages of Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation offers many benefits for growers. It delivers water right to the crop’s roots, meaning less water is used, and that can turn into significant savings. This is an important advantage in Florida where the typical soil is very sandy, meaning it does not hold water very well. A drip system ensures that very little water is lost, especially significant when crops are thirsty due to hot weather. It’s also important because water is such a big issue in The Sunshine State. Growers in Florida contend with water access issues, saltwater encroachment, water conservation issues, and shrinking water tables due to a growing population.

Another benefit is that nutrients, fertilizers, and other applications can also be delivered precisely to the plants, meaning less waste here, too. Again, Florida’s sandy soils mean that nutrients and fertilizers must be constantly delivered, and waste means higher costs and less profit.

Also, because water and other nutrients are being delivered directly to the plants, drip systems cut down on weeds, other pests, and disease. Florida has its share of pests, and many are exacerbated by moisture. Anything that cuts down on dampness, rot, mold, and the spread of water-based pathogens is a good thing.

Furthermore, drip irrigation systems can also be configured to irregularly-shaped fields, and they require much less water pressure than other types of irrigation. This means growers of all types of crops including those with wells that only offer water at low-pressure, can utilize drip systems

Lastly, drip systems can be automated and paired with other technology, like water sensors. The weather can change on a dime in Florida, and any system that helps farmers to stay one step ahead is welcome.

Disadvantages of Drip Irrigation

The biggest disadvantage of drip systems is the cost. A UF/IFAS Extension article puts the cost of installing drip irrigation at $500 to $1,200 or higher per acre which could be prohibitive to many growers. For example, those looking to start a growing operation, or for growers who may need to funnel resources towards other areas, like Florida citrus growers who are bending all of their resources towards fighting citrus greening. Other irrigation management systems are available and less expensive.

Additionally, maintenance costs are higher with drip systems. They need regular maintenance, and the lines can be damaged or disrupted by tilling, planting, animals and the elements, requiring costly repairs.

Factors for Irrigation Considerations

AgAmerica researched irrigation options in November of 2016, creating a White Paper on the topic. In speaking with ag industry members, Tom Willis, owner of T&O Farms in Liberal, Kansas and one of three operations in Kansas’s three-year Dragon Line™ irrigation study and Dr. Wesley Porter of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, we identified the following factors that should be considered when installing irrigation:

  • type of crop
  • fuel cost and availability
  • initial cost
  • labor requirements
  • size and shape of the field(s)
  • available water source

 

Oher aspects to consider when deciding on irrigation are whether the land is owned or rented, and what it is being used for. Get all the details from our full White Paper here.

When you’re ready to choose the right irrigation system for your operation, AgAmerica Lending has loan options that can help you with the start-up costs. Contact us today to speak with a knowledgeable team member about our custom loan packages.

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DON HARDEN

Relationship Manager

Growing up in the Florida cattle and citrus business, Don Harden manages his family ranch of several thousand head of cattle and horses. He has almost 40 years of experience in the real estate business; 15 years of which were spent with a large real estate auction company specializing in agricultural sales.