Apr 7, 2007
Expert Recommends Drip Irrigation for Higher-Return Crops

Growers with higher-return crops should switch to drip irrigation, an irrigation expert advised.
“There are so many advantages to using drip irrigation,” said Ron Goldy, a Michigan State University (MSU) Southwest District vegetable agent. “If you had the option, why use overhead irrigation?”
He said some of the advantages of drip irrigation, an irrigation method where pipes or tubes slowly drip water onto crops, include a more efficient use of water and fertilizer.

“You only water what you want watered. You feed the plants as they need it,” he said.
Goldy said drip is a low-pressure method of irrigation. That low pressure comes from a pressure-reducing protective valve. He urged growers who have already paid for irrigation expenses to switch to drip, saying “the only yearly cost is the dripline.”

Goldy predicted more and more growers will switch to drip irrigation because of its advantages. He said the market also is starting to demand it.

“Drip irrigation is driven not by growers but by brokers’ demands,” he said, adding drip irrigation is a necessity for crops grown on plastic. “For example, brokers want a Steak tomato grown on plastic. You have to use drip.”

Goldy said growers are happy with drip irrigation once they’ve made the switch.
“It’s an easy system to use,” he said. “I don’t see a problem switching to it all at once.”
Goldy said besides peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupe and other higher-return crops, pumpkins also benefit from drip irrigation.

“You don’t see it often, but it works well,” he said. “Pumpkins have powdery mildew problems and it keeps the leaves from getting wet.”

However, Goldy said it might not make sense to use drip irrigation on some crops. He said it’s not economically sound to use drip on crops such as beans and corn “because of narrow rows, larger acreage and lesser returns.”

He said drip irrigation also might be difficult to use on “anything you have to dig,” such as potatoes, carrots and onions.

Growers can learn more about drip irrigation at sessions during the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO held Dec. 7-9 in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The tomato session, which begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Dec.7, features “Irrigation and Fertigation of Fresh Market Tomatoes” by Dorota Haman, of the University of Florida. The session also features “Can You Reduce Irrigation Water Inputs While Maintaining High Yield and Quality?” by Mathieu Ngouajio, of MSU.

Haman also will present “Irrigation and Fertigation in Plasticulture Production” during the plasticulture session, which starts at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 8.

Two irrigation workshops will be held during the EXPO: Irrigation Workshop I from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Irrigation Workshop II from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9.

For more information on the sessions or the EXPO, visit www.glexpo.com.

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