An increasing global population, droughts and a move toward more sustainable options throughout the industry has led to drip irrigation becoming more popular.
Because of this, irrigation companies are working to provide products that are more advanced, environmentally friendly and speed up installation time for contractors.
Benefits beyond saving water.
The primary advantage of drip irrigation is ultimately water conservation.
“It’s the most efficient form of irrigation because it’s putting water directly where it’s needed,” says Peter Lackner, product manager at Toro. “And that’s especially true of subsurface irrigation where it’s putting water directly at the root level.”
Rick Foster, principal product manager with Rain Bird’s landscape drip business unit, calls drip irrigation a problem solver, since it eliminates overspray that winds up on cars, parking lots, sidewalks and other areas where it’s not wanted.
Foster says another perk of choosing subsurface drip irrigation is it reduces acts of vandalism.
“Drip irrigation can be installed subsurface…which means you don’t see it. And if they can’t see it, they can’t damage it. Unfortunately, vandals see a spray that’s popped up and they give it a kick,” he says. “It happens.”
The amount of water needed to run a drip irrigation system also attracts more contractors.
“As the population increases, and there’s more and more demand on the infrastructure, we’re losing more water pressure,” says Rick Hall, market development director with K-Rain. “Drip irrigation, by nature, is a low-pressure delivery system. It’s not going to suffer the same long-term effects of an overhead system.”
Hall adds that during times of droughts, where water conservation is critical, some communities give relief or exemption to water restrictions where drip irrigation systems are installed.
Advancing the apparatus.
Since drip is becoming increasingly more popular, irrigation companies are making a wider range of products to keep up with demand.
Netafim has been working to provide more options when it comes to flow and spacing.
“Dripline used to be about .9 gph (gallons per hour) flow and 12-inch spacing. Most manufacturers still only have one or two flow rates,” says Mauricio Troche, vice president of sales for specialty markets at Netafim. “With our farming background we understood the need for multiple flows to meet different soil or plant types.”
Netafim manufactures equipment with flow rates as low as .26 gph to as high as 1.16 gph, coupled with spacings from six inches to 24 inches.
Troche says the company is also making more check valves for slope and elevation changes.
Rain Bird has been making advancements with check valves too, by adding them to each emitter in the dripline system.
“In a drip zone, or any irrigation zone, when you complete the irrigation cycle and the valve turns off, typically all that water drains out at the lowest point in the zone,” Foster says. “And that’s a lot of wasted water…so, one of the other advancements that’s happening is the integration of check valves inside each tiny, little drip emitter.
“So, instead of having an in-line check valve, which have been around for years and years, that are big and bulky and the size of your fist, the industry has developed tiny check valves that are located in each individual drip emitter,” he adds. “And what that means is, when the zone shuts off, all the water stays in the drip line.”
Rain Bird also has a patent for its copper chip technology in its new XFS Subsurface Dripline.
“When you go subsurface, you have to protect the devices from root intrusion and that’s a big problem,” Foster says.
“One of the most important advancements is the use of copper located right in the drip emitter itself. Copper is known to resist root growth, so as roots get closer to a high concentration of copper, the growth of the root is interfered with.”
Hunter is also getting into the copper game, and Robb Kowalewski, product manager for Hunter’s valves and micro-irrigation division, says a copper dripline will debut in Q1 of 2021.
“I think the way people design will probably modify globally…and because of that, drip irrigation will continue to grow and be more and more relevant.” Robb Kowalewski, product manager for Hunter’s valves and micro-irrigation division
However, Kowalewski says one of the company’s tried and true products is even better at preventing root intrusion.
“What we consider to be our better invest is our Eco-Wrap and our Eco-Mat,” he says. “The Eco-Wrap is a dripline that has a fleece lining wrapped around it. It is more root-resistant than copper and, because of the fleece, it actually moves the water better under soil.”
Lackner says Toro still has a flagship products, the DL2000, which uses a cylindrical emitter that’s also tolerant of debris.
Additionally, Lackner says Toro is working on creating products that ease installation.
“We revamped our drip zone valve kits about three years ago, and with anything with drip, it’s important to have a filter on the line as well as a pressure regulator,” he says.
“The revamp we did was basically consolidating our regulators into one model that can tolerate a wider range of flows. We’ve got essentially a universal flow pressure regulator…that makes things easier for the contractor to install.”
Furthermore, Toro’s tri-lock fittings fit multiple size driplines, which helps contractors when retrofitting or dealing with maintenance issues.
Rain Bird has also been working to speed up installation.
“We’ve developed pre-assembled units we call control zone kits,” Foster says. “Instead of having to go find all the individual components, and confirming they all work together, we’ve done all that work for them. ”
Netafim has created its wheelbarrow tubing dispenser and Techlock Fittings with the motto “keep it simple” in mind.
“The tubing dispenser is just that. You put a roll onto the wheelbarrow. Like a lazy Susan, you’re able to move it around easily and dispense tubing quickly,” Troche says.
“The Tech Lock fittings are meant to be used instead of insert fittings when you think you might move the tubing again or want to change the design down the road. They are meant to be used in smaller spaces.”
Making drip a mainstay.
Hall believes that drip’s popularity plays into contractors being more educated on the subject.
“I can recall years ago that drip was considered a splurge or a luxury,” he says. “But today it’s become common practice in a lot of areas. Irrigated areas are becoming smaller and smaller as populations expand, so drip is very much mainstream today.
“The need to throw water great distances are limited to athletic fields, golf course, large parks and places like that.”
And Hall says drip irrigation will only continue to evolve.
“I would suspect that as drip continues to grow in popularity, you’re going to find more companies offering creative ways of quickly installing it,” he says.
Lackner too believes more people will embrace drip irrigation, and other sustainable measures.
“I anticipate we’ll see more fluent water infrastructure expansion and people using more retreated water to water their landscapes,” he says.
Troche says Netafim has been looking to encourage more people to use reclaimed water as well.
“As more water agencies and states require the use of reclaimed water, we have developed two options,” he says. “We’ve always had a reclaimed option that drained completely and with our emitter filtration and new copper oxide root intrusion technology, we now offer a reclaimed check valve version for projects that have elevation changes.”
Kowalewski also says an increased focus on the environment will lead to more landscape designers to incorporate drip.
“I think drip irrigation will continue to grow at a higher pace than overhead sprays,” he says. “I think the way people design will probably modify globally…and because of that drip irrigation will continue to grow and be more and more relevant.”
But with so many options out there, Kowalewski says it can be difficult for contractors to know exactly what to choose.
“I think there are some many (products) that it’s confusing so I think companies will probably consolidate products,” he says.
Foster says simplifying the installation process is more important now than ever.
“Sometimes, simple innovations like pre-assembling a system may be very helpful for customers,” he says.
“I think it’s important especially with a tight labor market, and COVID-19, contractors want to do work with smaller teams and get in and out of the jobsite quickly.”