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The History of Drip Irrigation

Early Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is quickly becoming the standard irrigation method for many applications such as home gardens, landscapes, greenhouses, vineyards, row crops and orchards. Although the technology and materials have seen some significant changes throughout the years, the basic concepts have remained constant.

Innovative irrigation methods have been practiced since ancient times. One early method involved burying clay pots filled with water within a planting area, allowing the water to gradually seep into the soil at the plant's root zone. The era of drip irrigation, however, began in 1866 in Afghanistan when researchers began utilizing clay pipes to both irrigate and drain planting areas.

In the 1920s, growers in Germany began using perforated pipe to irrigate plants. Once plastics were developed and widely used after WWII, an Australian inventor named Hannis Thill configured a plastic pipe with long passageways to evenly distribute water to crops.

In 1959, Simcha Blass and Kibbutz Hatzerim developed and patented the first practical surface drip irrigation emitter. The emitter concept was developed several years earlier by Simcha and his son Yeshayahu in Israel. Instead of releasing water through tiny holes easily blocked by small particles, water was released through larger and longer passageways, which decreased its velocity as it exited the piping.

Modern Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation systems have also expanded to include compatible devices such as micro sprayers, bubblers and misters, which deliver water differently from drip emitters. These emitters that have a wider water dispersion area are generally used on plants and ground cover with wider root zones. 

Subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) features permanently or temporarily buried dripline or drip tape that is located at, or just below, plants' roots. This type of drip irrigation tubing has emitters embedded within the tubing that are spaced evenly apart. SDI is popular for row crop irrigation, especially in areas where water supplies are limited or recycled water is used. To determine the most suitable drip irrigation system and components to be used in a specific installation, a careful study of relevant factors ,such as land topography, type of soil, water supply characteristics, and crop and climate conditions, is needed.

Modern drip irrigation is arguably the world's most valued innovation in agriculture since the invention of the impact sprinkler in the 1930s. Crops are now growing in desert climates, a feat that definitely would not have been feasible without drip irrigation.  Efforts to conserve water in regions of the world susceptible to drought have been successful because of drip irrigation. In addition, crop yields in virtually all environments have significantly increased, all while utilizing less water.

The Future of Drip Irrigation

Dr. Daniel Hillel, a research scientist at Columbia University's Earth Institute, was named the 2012 recipient of the World Food Prize, which honors "individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world."  Dr. Hillel earned this prize by spreading drip irrigation technology to people in Middle Eastern countries, such as Turkey, Pakistan and the Sudan.  Described as the "Father of Sustainable Water Management," he promotes agricultural development that does not rely on pesticides to control pests and chemicals to increase soil fertility.

Drip irrigation is still evolving as advancements are made in materials and techniques. In addition, growers are becoming increasingly aware of how precious water is as a resource, how its efficient usage and management can assist agriculture and how drip irrigation technology can positively affect society as a whole.  Drip irrigation has truly become, and will continue to be, a benefit to us all.

Drip Irrigation Expert Mike

Written by Mike Ricker | Mike Ricker is always looking for ways to make drip irrigation easier for everyone.  If you found this article useful or have a great tip, please pass it on to Mike at: