Originally published in Growing Magazine’s July 2014 issue.

Minimal investments for a strong ROI

For large-scale commercial growers, overhead irrigation is more economically feasible.

Drip systems typically cost $500 to $1,200 or more per acre. Part of the total cost is capital investment, and another part is the annual cost of disposable components. In some fields, growers may need to replace sections of their drip tubing every season. This adds to the cost of removal and disposal or recycling. The numbers do not include the additional cost of frost protection or germination systems.

The cost of a solid set system depends on whether it’s a permanent installation or a portable system. Permanent systems can be costly to install, since laterals need to be placed underground, with only sprinklers and risers above the ground. However, since the system is not moved around the field, labor costs are minimal.

An irrigation system needs to be cost-effective, and it needs to be designed for each grower’s goals, crops, management style and soil.

Portable systems are less expensive, but they come with higher labor requirements. These systems use a lateral pipeline with sprinklers installed at regular intervals. When irrigation is complete in one area, the lateral line needs to be disassembled and moved to the next position.

While installation of a solid set system is not always cheap, one of the main advantages is the need for less tubing and equipment. In most solid set systems, sprinklers can be spaced 6 to 18 meters apart and still provide uniform application. Drip tubing needs to be set up around 1 meter to 0.5 meter apart.

In larger fields, a substantial amount of drip tubing is needed to irrigate crops, and the tubing may only last a few seasons. According to an article in California Agriculture, the cost of the drip tubing and emission devices is approximately 25 percent of the initial expense. However, these components have the shortest durability.