After three years of testing cotton performance in the field, a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station agronomist says subsurface drip irrigation is a workable option for Rolling Plains crop producers.

“Drip is the preferred way to irrigate in many other crop-producing regions,” said John Sij, Experiment Station agronomist based at Vernon. “Research has proven it is the most efficient water delivery system available today.

“But is it feasible in the semiarid climate we have here on the Rolling Plains? Answering that question is the rationale behind our research.”

So far, the Rolling Plains project has focused on evaluating plant productivity and lint quality of irrigated cotton grown in conventional and conservation tillage systems. Results were then compared to cotton grown with traditional furrow irrigation.

The site for the first three years of this research was a 28-acre field in Munday, Texas. Subsurface drip-irrigation lines were installed 12 to 14 inches deep, using 40- and 80-inch spacings. This allowed the researchers to divide the field into 66 plots, each slightly smaller than one-half acre, which could be individually watered and monitored.

“We installed water meters to record actual crop water use in each plot,” Sij said. “We planted our conservation-tillage study into a terminated rye cover crop. The planting dates for each study ranged from early May to early June.”

With two years of comparative data at hand and one year's data still in review, Sij feels subsurface drip irrigation has proven its worth.