Farm Irrigation Systems: 11 Things (2024) You Ought To Know

Farm irrigation systems are an essential part of modern farming.

There are numerous farm irrigations systems that can help you to keep fields hydrated and productive.

Below, we’ll discuss the basics of irrigation as well as the best irrigation method for each farm.

Let’s get started.

1. What is a farm irrigation system?

A farm irrigation system is a method of applying water to crops.

The various types of irrigation are classified as surface irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, and micro-irrigation.

The decision to select an irrigation system or convert one to a more efficient system can be a complex decision for any landowner or farmer.

In this article, we’ll try to help you distinguish between the various systems and allow you to identify the factors that determine the best system for you.

2. What factors should you consider when selecting the best farm irrigation system?

When researching irrigation, you’ll quickly learn that there are several systems, and no single system is best for every application.

When you decide to install an irrigation system, you must consider the following factors to determine which is best for your situation.


bulletFuel cost and availability

bulletInitial cost

bulletLabor requirements

bulletSize and shape of the field

bulletWater source

3. What’s the difference between irrigation and rain-fed agriculture?

There are two primary ways that farmers and ranchers use agricultural water to cultivate crops.

The first is rain-fed farming.

This is the natural application of water to the soil through direct rainfall.

When you rely on rainfall, you are less likely to encounter the contamination of food products.

However, you may run into water shortages when rainfall is reduced.

Irrigation is the artificial application of water to the soil through various systems of tubes, pumps, and sprays.

Irrigation can come from groundwater such as springs, wells, rivers, lakes, or reservoirs.

Other sources also include treated wastewater or desalinated water.

Either way, it is critical that farmers protect their agricultural water source.

This will help to minimize the potential for contamination.

In addition, users of irrigation water must be careful not to pump groundwater out of an aquifer faster than it is being recharged so as to not deplete the resource.

4. What are the different types of farm irrigation systems?

There are four main types of agricultural irrigation that are currently in use.

These main categories include flood, sprinkler, drip, and micro-irrigation.

All four (as well as some other sub-types) can help you keep your farm irrigated.

To decide which one is best, you’ll need to evaluate various factors including water source, budget, types of crops being grown, water requirements, setup, convenience, etc.

We recommend working with a company that provides both farm irrigation system supplies and repair services so that you’ll have everything that you need.

bulletSurface irrigation

Surface irrigation occurs when water is distributed over and across the land by gravity.

In this method, there is no mechanical pump involved.

bulletLocalized irrigation

In localized irrigation, water is distributed under low pressure using a piped network that is applied to each plant.

bulletFlood irrigation

There are two types of flood irrigation systems that farms can use to distribute water.

These include furrow irrigation and graded border irrigation.

Furrow irrigation is irrigation water directed down furrows that have usually been graded to a specific gradual slope for the most uniform application.

The water in these furrows is normally supplied by an above-ground PVC pipe with an opening called a “gate” at each furrow.

The gate can be opened and adjusted to monitor the flow of the furrow.

Sometimes, a large diameter thin wall poly pipe is used, and a hole is punched to divert water to each furrow as well.

Graded border irrigation occurs when irrigated water is directed down a narrow strip of a field with raised earth borders on each side.

The length of the border is specific to a gradual slope for the most uniform application.

Water is supplied to the high end of the border from an underground pipeline with a riser and valve.

bulletSprinkler irrigation

When you think of farm irrigation systems, sprinkler irrigation may be the first that comes to mind.

Sprinklers can be used in fields of any size, shape, or slope.

Here are the most common systems used for agriculture.

The first type of sprinkler irrigation is called a hand move pipe.

This is when sprinklers are attached to the end of a 30 or 40-foot section of aluminum PVC pipe.

These pipes are installed end to end down a row or section of the field.

These are called laterals, and they’re normally spaced about 40 feet apart.

The second type of sprinkler irrigation is called solid set, which is a permanent underground PVC pipe that is installed throughout a field.

In this field, risers come off of the PVC pipe with a sprinkler on top.

The spaces between sprinklers can be anywhere from 40 to 100 feet depending on the size and type of sprinkler used.

The third type of sprinkler irrigation system is called a center pivot system.

These sprinklers are installed along the machine suspended from rigid or hose drops.

They are typically installed just above the top of the crop, but can be put close to the ground as well.

The fourth and final type of sprinkler irrigation system is called a hose reel or traveling gun system.

This occurs when one large sprinkler is installed on a cart attached to a hose on a larger reel.

The cart is connected to a tractor and is pulled down the field for setup, unreeling the hose from the reel.

Once the water runs through the system, the sprinkler can operate, and the reel will turn.

This winds the hose and pulls the sprinkler and cart in.

bulletDrip irrigation

Drip irrigation is used to apply water directly to the root zone of a crop.

It involves the use of small diameter poly tubing with emitters.

These emitters can be installed into the tubing by hand to water a specific tree or plant.

Emitter tubing is also utilized in specific spacing to reduce installation costs.

Drip systems can either be installed above ground or buried to reduce damage to tubing.

Drip tape is a type of drip irrigation that has dripped emitters installed in a very thin tube that is shipped flat in coils or rolls.

Emitters are normally spaced 6 to 12 inches apart.

Drip tape is also used to irrigate vegetable crops and gardens.

In addition, drip tape is recommend if you want to irrigate crops like cotton or corn.


Water is distributed across the land by raising the water table with a system of pumping stations, canals, gates, and ditches.

This type of irrigation is the most effective in areas with high water tables.

bulletManual irrigation

In this method, water is distributed across land through manual labor and watering cans.

Manual irrigation can be very labor-intensive, so it may not be the preferred method if you have a lot of land or are hoping to minimize the time you spend on irrigation.


Micro irrigating occurs through the use of small, low-volume sprinklers, called micro-sprinklers.

These are best when irrigating orchards or vineyards.

Micro-sprinklers are most often used at the base of a tree to water only that tree.

However, you may also find micro-sprinklers installed between two trees.

Micro-sprinklers are connected to PVC pipe that can be run either above or below ground.

5. How do you determine the compatibility of farm irrigation systems with other farm operations?

One factor you’ll want to consider when selecting a farm irrigations system is how compatible it is with other farm operations.

An irrigation system for crop fields must be designed and work in a way that will not make other operations either difficult or impossible altogether.

If you want to use larger mechanized equipment on your land, then you’ll need a longer, wider field.

If you intend to use smaller equipment or animal-powered cultivating equipment, then this will be more compatible with small fields and more permanent irrigation facilities.

Always consider how your irrigation system fits into the bigger picture.

6. How much does a farm irrigation system cost?

There’s no easy answer to this because the cost varies depending on how much land you’re irrigating.

Small systems that are operated by manual labor and gravity flow will cost as little as $500.

However, a large system requiring pumps and permanent piping can cost anywhere from $1100 to $2200 an acre.

All irrigation systems will cost you time and money to operate and manage.

For this reason, the farm irrigation system you select will have a great financial impact on you.

While some types of pressurized systems will have high capital and operating costs, others will have minimal labor and conserve water.

On the other hand, you’ll find some that are expensive to construct but have high labor requirements.

There are also some systems that are limited by the type of soil or topography of the field.

Before you select a system, consider the cost of maintenance and the expected life of the system.

Other financial impacts could include energy, water, depreciation, land preparation, maintenance, labor, and tax.

7. What critical topographical characteristics should you consider when installing farm irrigation systems?

One of the major factors affecting irrigation (especially if you choose to go the surface irrigation route) is topography.

The most important topographical factors include the slope of the field and its uniformity.

Here are some factors that must be considered:

bulletLocation and elevation of the water supply relative to the field boundaries

bulletThe area and configuration of the fields

bulletAccess by roads

bulletUtility lines (gas, electricity, water, etc.)

bulletMigrating herds whether wild or domestic

8. What soil properties should you account for when installing an irrigation system?

Your property’s soil type as well as its moisture-holding capacity is a critical factor to consider when selecting your irrigation method.

Compared to clay soils, sandy soils have a high intake rate and low moisture.

As such, sandy soils will require an entirely different irrigation method than deep clay soils.

If your land has sandy soil, it will require more frequent and smaller amounts of water.

Clay soil, on the other hand, will need to be irrigated less frequently and to a larger depth.

9. How does water supply affect your irrigation system?

The quality and quantity of the water used in your irrigation system are crucial elements in selecting a farm irrigation system.

This is because water demands by crops are continuous during the growing season.

If your water supply has a relatively small discharge, then it is best utilized in an irrigation system that incorporates frequent applications.

Similarly, if your water supply has poor quality and lacks plant nutrients then the supply must be applied more frequently and in larger amounts than one with good quality.

10. Should you consider the crop characteristics?

Yes, different irrigation systems will create different environmental conditions, such as humidity, temptation, and soil aeration.

How well crops do can be affected by how water is applied or the quantity delivered.

Crops that have high economic value may need more capital-intensive practices.

Additionally, deep-rooted crops are more amendable to low-frequency, high-application rate systems than shallow-rooted crops.

Understanding how your irrigation system will affect your crop and its characteristics will make your farm more successful overall.

11. How should the social and external influences impact your selection of a farm irrigation system?

Irrigation goes well beyond the individual farm.

You should extend your thought process about irrigation selection to the community and national levels.

At the community level, remember that there are various individuals also engaging in this practice.

There are other farmers, irrigation systems designers, and members of farming groups there to support you.

Certain irrigation systems may also been practiced locally for generations, which means there are technological innovation and maintenance practices that you can tap into.

Thus, it’s worth working on irrigation at the community level.

Nationally, policies regarding foreign exchange can impact irrigation.

Many irrigation projects are financed by outside donors and lenders.

As a result, specific types of systems may be precluded because of international policies, practices, and attitudes.

It’s worth paying attention to this and understanding why things are done the way they are.

Final Thoughts

Selecting your farm irrigation system is a significant personal and financial decision for your land.

Do your research and choose wisely as it can ensure higher crop yields and save you money!

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Erika Gokce Capital

Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.


2 thoughts on “Farm Irrigation Systems: 11 Things (2024) You Ought To Know”

  1. Dear Erika,
    After growing up in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, directly across from Prospect Park, and spending many summers in a small lakeside community in New Jersey, I moved to New Jersey because of my job.
    I am currently retired and loving it.
    To the point, a small stream passes through our property and I am starting to
    learn about riparian rights. From what I have read, I and my wife are riparian owners. I was delighted to have stumbled upon your blog and am thoroughly enjoying the education you are offering me. Thank you so much.
    I have a few questions to ask you and would be grateful if you found the time and desire to respond to this “comment”. I realize that you may have already covered my areas of interest in parts of your blog that I have not yet read.
    Briefly stated, do we have to declare and/or petition local and/or state agencies to claim the use of riparian rights?
    Can government agencies deny us these riparian rights to our property?
    Can the federal government deny us these rights?
    Finally, I am only thinking of watering a garden, not even a farm, and potentially wading/swimming in the stream after the possibility of damming it up to gain, maybe, a few feet, if physically possible, to create a small pool for our use.
    Thank you again. I will be reading your blog in the future and learning more about this fascinating subject.
    With warmest regards,

    • Hello Lou, I’m so glad our blog was helpful! Thank you for your comment!
      I should say that I am not a lawyer myself and the laws regarding riparian rights vary from state to state, so I would recommend speaking with a local real estate attorney. However, I do not believe you need to petition the local government as riparian rights are intrinsic to a property. I also don’t believe riparian rights can be “denied” as such, but there may be laws or easements in existence that give other individuals or governments superior rights to the water. This is another reason why you may want to speak with a local real estate attorney.
      I hope this helps!


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