Aspects to consider when choosing an irrigation system for horticulture

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Irrigation system selection is an important aspect of setting up or upgrading horticultural enterprises. There are many different types of irrigation systems available, and in many cases there is no single best solution for any given situation.

Each irrigation system type has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on the situation, and it is often necessary to make a series of compromises.

Keeping an open mind to all available options may complicate the selection decision, but it will ensure that a more suitable system is not overlooked as a result of existing preferences by the owner, irrigation designer or consultant.

Each situation is different

Selecting a suitable irrigation system requires consideration of key parameters that are specific to each irrigation enterprise. For example, you may wish to adopt drip irrigation but are located in a communal irrigation supply scheme which supplies water too infrequently or inflexibly for drip irrigation to be successful.

Irrigation system selection is also influenced by crop type. For example, you may like to grow a cover crop in a citrus orchard, therefore low level sprinkler irrigation may be the most suitable option.

Also, the crop may be sensitive to heat and sunburn so overhead sprinklers or misters may be necessary. In many high value crops, a dual system (for example drip and overhead sprinkler/mister irrigation on the same orchard) is becoming a popular choice enabling the advantages from both systems to be utilised.

Use the experiences of others in similar situations

It is often very helpful to inspect and compare existing systems that are working well in situations similar to your own.

When considering the advantages and disadvantages of different systems, you should also consider your style of management. What do you hope to achieve by upgrading your system? It is easy to be impressed by the latest technology or other impressive systems, but is it right for your situation and management style?

Advantages of pressurised systems

The three main pressurised irrigation systems suitable for horticulture include overhead (or above canopy/solid set) sprinkler, low level (or under tree/canopy) sprinkler and drip irrigation. When compared with furrow and flood irrigation, these systems share some key advantages, namely:

  • more even water distribution
  • greater control over the amount of water applied
  • automation
  • more efficient management practices, for example, minimum tillage and fertigation
  • lower labour requirements.

See the factsheet in the link below for tables of advantages and disadvantages for each system.

Content sources and further information

Victorian Resources Online – Irrigation System Selection and Design Guidelines

Maintaining a drip irrigation system for perennial horticulture

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