Across Regions, Cultivation/Production, Equipment/Technology, Smart Farming, Studies/Reports

Opinion: Drip irrigating potatoes – is it worth it, or not?

Dear folks, I rarely – if ever, provide readers with a personal opinion on any issue that I feature here on Potato News Today, but I wish to give you a personal opinion today regarding the question of drip irrigated potatoes – given the enormous response to a link to an article I recently posted here related to “drip irrigation and potatoes” in the UK.

I thought it might be of some value to some of you to post a personal “testimony” of sorts regarding the use of drip irrigation on potatoes – based on my personal experience as a potato farmer using drip irrigation during the nineties in South Africa – for what it might be worth to any of you. Here goes then…

Yes, no doubt in my mind – I will always be a proponent of the incredible value of drip irrigation for and on potatoes, no question about that. But NO, it is indeed not for everyone, and it is not applicable for everyone, or for every situation – that is for sure. Let me explain as best I can…

From my personal experience as a potato farmer, drip irrigation always was (and always will be) the most effective and efficient way to irrigate potatoes, simply because the end result always proved to be profitable for me personally, that is for sure. (And please keep in mind that I do not represent any drip irrigation company here at all, right? I am speaking from personal experience, and forgive me if I sound biased…)

Rows of young potatoes plants and drip irrigation. Photo credit> Depositphotos

Many people comment that drip irrigation is “expensive”. Yes, it might look like that based on figures “on paper”. But how does one define “expensive”? Just the initial cost and eventual maintenance of an irrigation system, and so forth and so on? Then you are right – a drip irrigation system is more expensive than most other systems that I am familiar with. But things might not be as simple as it look on the face of it, right? The “proof of the pudding” lies in the end result as far as I am concerned? I will try to explain my reasoning here, if you care to continue reading.

At the end of it all, I will always be a proponent of drip irrigation as the most cost effective and efficient way of irrigation, despite the higher initial cost (on the face of it) and maintenance afterwards. And this is not only because my drip system in South Africa saved me 50% or more of water usage when irrigating, but because it allowed me the most effective way to fertigate my potato crop way more efficiently and accurate than any other method of irrigation that I am aware of. Also because I could deliver an end product that was up to standard and complied with the requirements of the processing companies (all of the major international ones) for whom I supplied product at the time when I was a farmer in a part of South Africa which was at the time really drought stricken and every drop of water had to be used as efficiently as one possibly could.

Having said this, I need to say that to drip irrigate a potato crop is for sure not for everyone and not for every farm or for every situation. It is indeed management intensive, for one – and apart from that, it goes well beyond simply applying water as such. It also (and importantly so) involves commitment and planning of a dedicated fertigation program as well. Personally, I had success with this, I believe. I was for the most times able to supply an end product that met the standards set by the main potato processors of the day (still the main ones today) with an end product that was of the highest quality and of course acceptable to them. And I was able to do that with really a very limited water resource at my disposal.

BUT, let me be very clear about this, once more: Drip irrigating potatoes is NOT for everyone, and it might not be suitable for every situation or farming operation either. One needs to be really focused on hands-on management, “baby sitting”, “fine-tuning” and so on and so forth, for a lack of any better way to describe it in simple terms? If you are able to do this, you will no doubt reap the rewards. If not, stay away… If your situation requires that you would rather want or need to turn on the pivot (or whatever other method you use to irrigate) and let it go, drip irrigation might not be a good choice for you, if you understand what I mean?

Keep in mind that drip irrigation and fertigation go hand in hand – at least in my personal experience. Drip irrigation is not simply supplying one’s crop with water – it is also about supplying nutrients based on a dedicated plan and schedule, week after week until the crop matures. One really needs to plan your fertigation program based on the development and needs of your crop – if not day by day, at least week by week – until the crop reaches the stage for which it is meant – be that processing or fresh/table market, for example. Otherwise, you might just be disappointed that you did not get the value you hoped for. But with drip irrigation as an irrigation method, you can stick to that? I remember being able to conform to my fertigation schedule even while it was raining – because I was able to deliver a certain week’s scheduled N or K supply for instance within a matter of two hours even when it rained – and it did not make much of a difference in soil moisture at all, for instance?

Early drip irrigated potato rows. Photo credit Geyseco

My personal aim with drip irrigating about 100 hectares (240 acres or so) potatoes in South Africa during the nineties was to get as close as I possibly could get to an “indoor greenhouse” situation in an “outdoor/open field situation”, so to speak. It worked out well for me for the most part (although not always, of course – as farming usually goes…) But all in all, I was able to deliver a desirable product most of the times to the four potato processing companies (fries and crisps) that I contracted with at the time.

Personally, I will always be a proponent for growing potatoes under drip irrigation. And that is indeed a personal opinion, based on personal experience growing the crop I love so dearly. But like I said: It is not for everyone. If possible, I would have watered each and every one of my millions of “babies” by hand every day, if you understand what I mean? And if you love potatoes as I do, you will. But be ready and be prepared for the fact that unless you are willing and able to “micro-manage” a drip irrigation system, it might not work out as you hoped it might…

These are my personal two cent’s worth then… And as I said: I do not campaign here for any drip irrigation company anywhere at all? This is simply based on my personal experiences and beliefs about drip irrigation and potatoes, right?

Any comments from any of you readers of my website are most welcome as always, of course? And many thanks for any and all of you for taking the time to read my comments, folks – I do appreciate it.

Spud wishes from Canada,
Lukie Pieterse

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse

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