Holger Weckwert

Four Keys to Successful Drip Irrigation

In my previous blogs, I explained how more traditional irrigation methods for agriculture are simply not sustainable and how a drip irrigation system contributes to water conservation. We also evaluated the advantages and challenges of implementing a comprehensive drip irrigation solution such as Drip-by-Drip on your property.

Now, let’s talk about your farm and four key considerations that will determine the type of drip irrigation system that is right for your needs.

What am I Growing on my Property Next Year?

You are always thinking ahead, looking to the future. You’re focused on trying to forecast and plan accordingly for conditions that are oftentimes beyond your control – weather phenomenon, new regulations – but considering a drip irrigation system starts with some fundamental questions: What am I growing next year? Will I return to the same crop year-in /year-out or will there be different crop varieties year over year? Will I rotate crops this year? Will I also grow arable crops? How much and what part of my arable land will I put under drip?

Understanding how frequently you may or may not adapt which crops you grow will determine the installation type (one year or multiple years) to provide the most effective solution – one that is adaptable to shifting needs and requirements in line with how you literally see your business growing. You don’t want a scenario wherein you would be forced to move lines each year in a permanent crop like almonds or citrus.

Holger Weckwert
Holger Weckwert
Holger Weckwert,
Global Segment Manager Fruits & Vegetables and Insecticides, Bayer Division Crop Science

What Type of Soil do I Have?

Imagine that you’ve determined that your needs would be best served with a subsurface drip irrigation system, we would next evaluate the type of soil on your property. That research would review soil composition – structure, texture and layering – and the cumulative effect on critical factors such as infiltration rate and hydraulic conductivity. Those elements, in turn, will set the options of the irrigation design of your specific farm setup. For example, if you have sandy soil, the drip lines would be most efficacious when placed more closely together as the lateral spread of water will be diminished, unlike with a more finely textured soil. Or, perhaps you’re working with heavy clay soils, necessitating slower drip irrigation rates reflective of the hydraulic conductivity – or lack thereof.

How Sophisticated of a Solution do I Want – or Need?

We’ve all heard how technology can improve our lives. And it’s certainly true that a properly set up, calibrated and maintained drip irrigation system can deliver technology that improves yields while reducing resources used (e.g. farm machinery and labor, management hours, fuel, expenditures, etc.), thus contributing to a stronger financial result. In the end, you’ll need to consider how quickly you want to evolve your operation to embrace more technology, managing hardware and software investments. There are many possible approaches to incorporate technology, as you consider how much automation do I want? How much am I willing to input into the system? How will I rely on sensors versus people? How will I evaluate performance, and how will I best monitor use of water?

If you have a multi-crop farm, you need to consider the unique water, fertilizers and crop protection product needs. That’s why you would likely benefit from an automated system in the long run that can more efficiently and accurately measure, control, distribute and record those materials.

But the decision is not solely based on your farm considerations. Today, consumers want to be able to trace their food, know where it comes from how it’s been treated. The incorporation of drip irrigations allows you to monitor and record much of the information that consumers will expect to have, thus placing you in a better position to position your crops in the marketplace.

What will be the Financial Impact of a Drip Irrigation Solution?

The initial expenditure to implement a comprehensive drip irrigation solution can be significant, so carefully considering return on investment will ultimately shape your final decision. While our first consideration determined a near-term view to understand more about the variations in how you plan to sow your arable land, at this stage, you need to reconcile a long-term vision for your property with the flexibility you want to have to shift business focus in response to factors such as fluctuating markets, environmental changes and access to resources. Based on your read of the market, history and experience, where do you see your business in the next 10 years?

A properly installed and maintained above-surface drip irrigation system should remain operational for more than a decade in permanent crops, which would be a value proposition for someone like a vineyard owner who plans to leverage such a solution aligned with business growth and considers it a long-term investment. Conversely, a vegetable farmer may consider a subsurface system that may need to be replaced every five years but costs approximately half as much as an above-ground solution over its life span. This might be an equitable ROI given the flexibility it provides and the savings it allows for when it comes to quantity of resources needed to manage.

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