Drip or trickle irrigation is a very efficient method of applying water and nutrients to crops. Crop yields can increase through improved water and fertility management and reduced disease and weed pressure. When drip irrigation is used with polyethylene mulch, yields can increase even further.

These benefits are only possible when a drip irrigation system is properly designed, managed, and maintained. Irrigation system design is complex and is beyond the scope of this publication. You should consult with a qualified agricultural engineer or irrigation equipment dealer to design your drip irrigation system.

Disadvantages of Drip Irrigation

  • Initial investment costs per acre may be higher than those of other irrigation options.
  • Management requirements are somewhat higher. Delaying critical operation decisions may cause irreversible crop damage.
  • Frost protection is not possible with drip systems; if it is needed, sprinkler systems are necessary.
  • Rodent, insect, and human damage to drip lines are potential sources of leaks.
  • Water filtration is necessary to prevent clogging of the small emitter holes.
  • Compared to sprinkler irrigation, water distribution in the soil is restricted.

Advantages of Drip Irrigation

  • Lower-volume water sources can be used because trickle irrigation may require less than half of the water needed for sprinkler irrigation.
  • Lower operating pressures mean reduced energy costs for pumping.
  • High levels of water-use efficiency are achieved because plants can be supplied with more precise amounts of water.
  • Disease pressure may be less because plant foliage remains dry.
  • Labor and operating costs are generally less, and extensive automation is possible.
  • Water applications are made directly to the plant root zone. No applications are made between rows or other non-productive areas, resulting in better weed control and significant water savings.
  • Field operations, such as harvesting, can continue during irrigation because the areas between rows remain dry.
  • Fertilizers can be applied efficiently through the drip system.
  • Irrigation can be done under a wide range of field conditions.
  • Compared to sprinkler irrigation, soil erosion and nutrient leaching can be reduced.
  • Disease pressure may be less because plant foliage remains dry.