Is Subsurface Drip Irrigation the Way to Go?

Brian GermanIndustry

Researchers at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center (KARE) are encountering positive results using subsurface drip irrigation in some of their fruit trials.  Historically, growers have not been big proponents of subsurface drip, but researchers are experiencing more uniform fertility and production with their irrigation program.

Subsurface Drip Irrigation

Courtesy: UC ANR

Becky Phene, Staff Research Associate at KARE, noted how subsurface drip can provide more finely tuned irrigation to crops. “It can be managed on a day to day basis, based on the needs of the crop.  So, hopefully not too much irrigation, too much water, and not too little.”

One of the major components for success using subsurface irrigation is frequency.  “We totally advocate high-frequency irrigation with subsurface drip.  High-frequency meaning, multiple irrigations every day during the season,” said Phene.  Fruit trees approaching full maturity at KARE are scheduled for 11 irrigation cycles a day, at 13 minutes per cycle on days with high evapotranspiration.

Researchers have also found that high-frequency irrigation keeps the area closest to the tubing wet enough to help combat root intrusion.  “And as you move out radially throughout the root-zone, it’s going to be a little drier, but you’re also going to go into a more optimal soil moisture level,” Phene said.

Subsurface drip irrigation might not work for every farming operation, but growers who have automated irrigation systems in place may find that it is a viable option.  Many organic growers are showing interest in subsurface irrigation programs as they keep the soil surface dry, helping to control weeds.

Listen to the interview below.

Becky Phene