Interest in drip irrigation is growing throughout the High Plains as regions within it run short on water supplies and producers look for economical ways to continue efficient production.
"We want everyone to find out where drip fits, because where it fits, it fits very well," said Nich Kenny, Texas AgriLife Extension Service irrigation specialist, speaking at a field day on the Durwood Dunlap farm near Pampa. "In some cases, it lets you do a lot more with a lot less."
Kenny is the first to say the pressurized irrigation method situated below the soil surface may not fit everywhere. But the series of filters, valves, tubing, emitters and pipelines can deliver water, nutrients and chemicals throughout a field with several advantages over pivot irrigation.
Drip irrigation provides a more uniform and efficient application across the field, allows for useful daily applications and minimizes surface evaporation, he said. It also helps utilize all the land including the corners, provides maximum control of irrigation and precise chemigation and fertigation, is good on changing or severe slopes and provides yield increases in most cases.
The drawbacks or disadvantages of the system, when compared to pivot irrigation, are the steep learning curve in management the first year or two, some decreased seed germination risk during drought season, the high initial cost of the investment, its non-transferable nature and the increased management needs, Kenny said.
Some management decisions that will help make for a more efficient-running system include dividing the field into blocks of 20-acres or so, keeping the lateral lines to no more than about one-half mile in length and then planting with the tape lines, not across them, he said.
"You want to create similarly sized zones or blocks in your field," Kenny said. "Design into multiples so you can mix and match the zones that are watered. You want an irrigation schedule that is balanced with the system's capacity.
"That management step is pretty intensive the first year or two," he said.
Kenny said drip systems vary in costs, but estimated the direct cost for putting in a system on 100 to150 acres with tape running down 30-inch centers would cost about $2,000 per acre while 40-inch centers would be around $1,600 per acre.
Additional costs come with tillage equipment and fitting the pumping plant equipment, he said. But the system has a potentially indefinite lifespan with the proper design and maintenance.
Other key maintenance and operation procedures that can make a difference in the success of the system include irrigation scheduling, water quality testing, system flushing and diagnostics, Kenny said.
Cleon Namken, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service irrigation engineer, explained several cost-share programs offered to producers.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) both provide funding to producers who negotiate contracts to convert surface irrigation to micro or drip irrigation. The drip irrigation system is cost-shared on a per acre basis, based on the spacing of the tape.
For a complete outline of the standards and specifications for these programs, producers can go to the website: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/efotg/ and look in Section IV.
Troy Faulkenberry, who operates his own company in Floydada and installed the Dunlap farm system, has installed more than 13,500 acres of drip during the last seven years.
"Drip is coming this way," Faulkenberry said. "When the water falls off, it follows."