Considered among the most important agricultural innovations in the world, drip irrigation has been researched for decades. UC Cooperative Extension weed management advisor Aliasghar Montazar has taken a close look at its application in organic spinach cultivation, reported Matthew Grassi in Growing Produce.
Not only does drip irrigation use less water than irrigation with sprinklers, the slow emission of water near plant roots also diminishes the crops' susceptibility to disease. Growers believe that ongoing issues with downy mildew is at least partially caused by moisture that sprinklers leave in the plant canopy.
“Being certified organic, there is really nothing they can use as fungicide; so it is a big problem,” Montazar said. “So, we said ‘Let's try drip (irrigation) in spinach.'”
Early results are promising. Montazar has analyzed enough field data from the plots to directly correlate a four- to five-times reduction in downy mildew disease in plots grown with drip irrigation compared to sprinkler-irrigated plots.
“The other thing to note is there is a nice savings on energy as well,” Montazar said. “Another grower reported he saved $200 an acre on energy savings from getting off the sprinklers. Because with drip, there is less pressure needed, so it consumes less energy (to pump water).”