Choosing the Right Irrigation System

A Comparison of Center Pivot Irrigation and Drip Irrigation

In recent years, two effective and efficient irrigation methods have emerged as the leading technologies — drip irrigation systems and center pivot irrigation systems. Although there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to each method, there are also truths and myths to consider. So, how do you make a decision between the two? You compare the facts.

There are at least five important areas where you should pay special attention:

  • • Your annual return on investment
  • • Your initial investment costs
  • • Your labor costs
  • • Water efficiency
  • • Crop versatility

After fully analyzing these issues, you’ll find that center pivot irrigation is clearly the choice for you. And, when it comes to center pivots, you won’t find better products than those from Valley®.

  • The uniformity of drip systems appear to degrade over time.
  • The design of drip systems is critical to good water uniformity.
  • Drip systems tend to get clogged from salty water.
  • Center pivots and linear are less expensive to install on large plots and have higher resale values.
  • Drip systems become more cost-competitive in small fields and irregularly shaped fields.
  • Center pivots and linears may last up to 30 years if properly maintained, versus 10 to 15 years for drip.
  • On-going maintenance costs for drip are three to five times higher than for center pivots and linears.
  • Operating costs for energy use are similar, but center pivots and linears typically require much less labor.
  • Drip often is favored on tall, permanent crops, especially when the field is not laid out to use center pivot and linear equipment.
  • Center pivots and linears are preferred in sandy soils.
  • Center pivots and linears support foliar application of chemicals and crop cooling.
  • Center pivots and linears are preferred where frequent crop rotations are used.
  • Drip systems are less adaptive and less forgiving to poor management practices.
  • Drip is more flexible for some existing infrastructure.
  • Surface drip irrigation has slightly higher efficiency than low-energy precision center pivot and linear application (LEPA) (95% versus 90% - 95%) in research installations.
  • No known studies yet compare actual on-farm efficiency.