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Agricultural Research and Education Center
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Bradenton, Florida 33508-9324
Bradenton AREC Research Report BRA1983-4 March 1983
THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF TRICKLE IRRIGATION FOR
CUT-FLOWER CHRYSANTHEMUI PRODUCTION
C. D. Stanley, B. K. Harbaugh, and J. W. Prevattl
Introduction and Background
Florida cut-flower chrysanthemum growers continually seek means to make their
business more profitable. In recent years, rapidly rising costs of production
and increasing competition from South American producers have increased the
need for Florida growers to become even more innovative and competitive. These
goals can possibly be attained by decreasing costs, increasing production,
raising market prices, reaching new markets, or expanding individual operations..
The most feasible means by which profitability can be increased for the indi-
vidual producer are to decrease costs and/or to increase production.
Water resources in Florida are being used at a much higher rate than ever
before because of increasing population and expanded agricultural and industrial
activity (4, 5). This increased demand on water supplies has prompted state
agencies to regulate water use more closely, even to the point of restricting
withdrawal. This regulation of water use and the possibility of salt water
intrusion into wells potentially can affect chrysanthemum producers greatly.
For these reasons, irrigation management is one area where potential changes
in established methods for chrysanthemum production may occur. Irrigation is
vital to production, and on a per unit basis, very large amounts of water are
required with irrigation systems commonly in operation. These systems include
overhead sprinkler and seep subirrigation.
Since many producers are located near coastal regions where incidence of salt
water intrusion into wells is more likely, the possibility of having to use
municipal water as a source of irrigation is becoming more of a reality. Thus,
potential water shortages and quality problems are requiring producers to
reconsider irrigation management practices. One possible alternative to present
irrigation systems which can reduce water usage, potentially lower costs, and
maintain or even improve production is trickle or drip irrigation. The word
potential must be emphasized since, along with the many advantages, there are
many disadvantages associated with this system. The discussion in this paper
1Assistant Professor (Soil-Water Relations), Associate Professor (Floriculture),
and Assistant Professor (Area Economist), respectively.
will examine the pros and cons of trickle irrigation for cut-flower chrysan-
themum production as well as the conditions required to make this system a
feasible alternative to present systems.
Trickle irrigation has been used on high value crops for several years in parts
of the world where water available for irrigation is severely limited (2). It
conserves by delivering only that water necessary for crop growth directly to
the root system with very little conveyance loss. When properly managed, over-
all application efficiency can approach 95%. Overhead sprinkler irrigation,
common in chrysanthemum production, can be inefficient due to drift, evaporation,
and irrigating areas not used for production such as walkways and roads.
Assuming an operation in which 60% of the total area was cropped, and 70% and
95% efficiency for overhead and trickle irrigation systems, respectively, 2.3
times more water would be used for the overhead irrigation system compared to
the trickle irrigation system. Since water usage is considerably less and
trickle irrigation systems operate at lower pressure levels, lower investment
and operating costs are needed for pumping stations than are required for over-
head irrigation (6). Results from water use studies conducted at AREC-Bradenton.
over the past years have shown that lower amounts of water are required than
previously recommended for chrysanthemum production with overhead irrigation (7).
When these lower amounts of water are applied with trickle irrigation, even less
water is needed (3).
Many growers fertilize their crop through the overhead system. With the large
quantities of water used, excessive fertilization can occur (since non-cropped
areas are irrigated) and a potential ground water pollution problem can result.
But with trickle irrigation, since lower amounts of water are required, this
potential hazard from excessive fertilization can be controlled.
Another advantage of trickle irrigation (as well as overhead sprinkler) is that
it can be fully or partially automated. This can simplify routine operations
such as irrigation scheduling and fertilization, since fertilizers can be in-
jected into the system. This ability to automate allows precise management
control over the entire growing season.
Compatibility with performing field operations
Trickle irrigation allows more flexibility for scheduling field operations when
compared to overhead irrigation. Since irrigation occurs in the soil and not
on the plant foliage, field operations such as pesticide application or har-
vesting are not inhibited as they can be with overhead irrigation.
The foliage of the crop is never wetted with trickle irrigation. This poten-
tially can be beneficial for disease control since high humidity environments
and splashing water promote fungal and bacterial diseases (1). Also, pesticides
may be more effective since they are not washed off the plant's foliage as can
occur with overhead irrigation.
Presently no restriction on water use
One very important advantage of trickle irrigation for South Florida growers is
that there are no present plans by the water management districts to restrict
water use for these systems in the event ofa declared water shortage. Thus, at
the present time, declared water shortages will not disrupt normal production
practices for trickle irrigated chrysanthemum operations as would occur for
overhead irrigated operations under present water shortage plan guidelines.
Flexibility for other uses
The principle management disadvantages are trickle irrigation's lack of ability
to provide adequate moisture for field preparation (fumigation and bed formation),
transplant establishment, or frost and freeze protection. These all can be
easily achieved with overhead sprinkler irrigation systems. These disadvantages
are not small by any means. One possible solution would be to use a combination
of systems to grow a crop of chrysanthemums. This would mean using an overhead
system to prepare the land and establish the transplants, and use the trickle
system to grow the crop, with the overhead system always available for cold
protection. This dual system approach would add greatly to the investment and
fixed costs, but would achieve water conservation compared to overhead
Another major disadvantage is the cost of purchasing, installing, operating, and
maintaining a trickle irrigation system. Recent studies (6) dealing with eco-
nomic comparisons of trickle irrigation with overhead sprinkler irrigation have
shown that even though the trickle system uses substantially less water, fixed
costs (ownership costs) are much higher because of the high cost and short life
expectancy of the trickle tubing. When using a well water source, overhead
irrigation is more economical when either replacing an existing system, or
establishing a new system. When municipal water must be used, trickle irrigation
is competitive with overhead irrigation as a new system choice because municipal
water costs so much more than water pumped from a well. If the life of the
tubing could be extended, the economic justification of trickle irrigation using
well water becomes much greater.
When a major cultural change is made, such as type of irrigation system, special
management problems develop. First, there is the problem of changing cultural
practices such as fertilization, insect control, and disease control to accom-
modate the new irrigation system. Because of the high investment associated
with chrysanthemum production, wrong management decisions made with a new
trickle system, can result in decreased quality and/or loss of production.
Losses can be minimized by thoroughly investigating the required management
changes before making a large scale investment and introducing trickle irriga-
tion on a small scale until confidence in its operation is achieved.
The second type of management problem that can occur using trickle irrigation
is concerned with system maintenance. Coping with water quality problems and
preventing emitter clogging can be serious, but using proper filtration and
preventative measures can avoid most problems.
Two unique problems for trickle irrigation can develop on sandy soils because
water is delivered directly to the bed and none reaches the walkways between
beds. First, a traffic problem for field machinery such as spray equipment or
tractors can occur with the dry and loose sand.'-Second, the plants can suffer
from sandblast damage if the wind becomes strong enough to move the dry sand.
In addition to these problems, windblown sand can accumulate on the plant foliage
causing a reduction in quality.
The decision of using trickle irrigation for cut-flower chrysanthemum production
ultimately lies with the producer and how he weighs the pros and cons of using
such a system. Factors such as overall management, crop yield and quality, water
source (availability, quality, and regulation), pest and disease control, land
preparation,: plant establishment, and frost and freeze protection can be very
important and must be taken into account in any system choice decision. *
Although the economic cost associated with purchasing and operating an irriga-
tion system is usually the most strongly considered factor, it may be possible
that one or more of these other factors associated with irrigation will ultimately
decide which system is used (when consideration is given to their economic and
cultural importance). Any decision concerning irrigation selection must include
consideration of the total usefulness and effectiveness of the system as well as
1. Agrios, G. N. 1973. Plant Pathology. Academic Press, New York pp 165-167.
2. Goldberg, D., B. B. Gornat, and D. Rimon. 1976. Drip Irrigation principles,
design, and agricultural practices. Drip Irrigation Scientific Publications,
Kfar Shmaryahu, Isreal. p 11.
3. Harbaugh, B. K., C. D. Stanley, and J. F. Price. 1982. Trickle irrigation
rates and chrysanthemum cut-flower production. HortScience 17(4):598-599.
4. Leach, S. D. and H. G. Healy. 1980. Estimated water use in Florida, 1977.
USGS Water Resources Investigations 79-112.
5. Pride, R. W. 1973.' Estimated water use in Florida, 1970. Fla. Bureau of
Geol. Info. Cir. 83
6. Stanley, C. D., J. W. Prevatt, S. P. Kovach, and B. K. Harbaugh.
An economic analysis of two irrigation systems for production of
chrysanthemums. Soil and Crop Sci. Soc. Proc. 42:(in press).
7. Waters, W. E. and C. A. Conover. 1969. Chrysanthemum production in Florida.
Univ. Fla. Agric. Expt. Bul. 730.