Don Hartman is a proud, frugal farmer who runs his pickup truck for about 10 years before turning the keys over to a hired man for additional farm chores. Major purchases are intricately scrutinized before purchase orders are ever generated.

Seven years ago, Hartman and his wife Cheryl, green chile pepper, upland cotton, and grain sorghum farmers in southwestern New Mexico, made the weighty decision to transition the farm’s water delivery system from furrow irrigation to subsurface drip irrigation. Cost containment was viewed as the best strategy to economically survive.

This spring, the Hartmans, owners and operators of Don Hartman Farms, Deming, installed subsurface drip on the second of their three farms, a 165-acre parcel on their owned and rented 400-acre operation in the gorgeous Mimbres Valley in Luna County. The couple’s long-term commitment to drip has shaved costs and tempered some long-term economic concerns.

“I probably wouldn’t be farming now if I hadn’t converted to drip,” said Hartman as he peered across his truck bed to a green chile field near maturity. “Drip irrigation saves so much. If you can afford the initial investment, it’s a no-brainer.”

Stories like the Hartman’s are increasing as farmers search for ways to weather drought and skyrocketing input costs in the Southwest and West. The Deming area receives 7 to 9 inches of rain annually, most during the summer monsoon season.

Hartman, 42, and the parcel’s landowner paid about $2,500 per acre for this year’s drip expansion which includes a mid-level system from Netafim. The landowner qualified for cost-share dollars through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s environmental quality incentives program or EQIP. Hartman signed a 10-year lease on the parcel to ensure the landowner would recoup the expenses.

“The cost of the system depends on the bells and whistles,” Hartman said. “It’s like a car – you can buy an economy model or a Mercedes Benz depending on the preferred features. The basic controller cost was about $1,200. We installed a $2,600 controller for the additional capabilities.”

Hartman’s drip system is hardwired to his home computer and can be accessed on the road with the software pcAnywhere.

Hartman said, “I can sit at home and monitor the drip system and apply fertilizer or go on vacation with my laptop and check on the water.”

His projection to recoup the drip system capital costs is about five years.

Hartman’s drip system includes 13 mil drip tape buried 8 to 10 inches under the flat field surface with 38-inch centers. The emitters are 12 inches apart. In the case of chile, the crop is planted above the tape. Chile is the No. 1 cash crop in Luna County.

Water from wells enters the filter station building which houses six, bright red colored, round-shaped sand media filters where garnet sand snags dirt and other small particles from the water.

Hartman uses varying drip flow rates depending on the need. In extremely hot weather, about one-quarter inch of water per hour is emitted for eight hours daily every fourth day.