New research from Dr. Fred Below, professor of crop science at the University of Illinois, is helping to determine if applying nutrients directly to the roots of crops through drip fertigation is a viable option for increasing yields.
While increasing yields remains a priority across the country, water conservation is a growing concern as well. In irrigation zones especially, drip irrigation is turning heads for its efficiency and its effective way to apply moisture and potential nutrients directly to the root system.
Drip irrigation systems run a long network of tubes or pipes through crop fields, allowing water to slowly drip out closer to the roots of each plant. This is an efficient way to use water, minimizing waste and evaporation compared to overhead irrigation systems. Additionally, drip irrigation systems can accept supplements to the water, like fertilizers. This fertigation process also increases the efficiency of fertilizers by applying the nutrients close to the root system where they are needed and immediately available to the plant.
The research trials that are in process with the University of Illinois are also looking to determine yield differences when nutrients are applied later in the growing season through drip fertigation. Balanced crop nutrition is critical for high yields, and while most farmers are able to apply needed nutrients in the early stages of crop growth, later stages prove to be challenging. However, through fertigation, nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen — both of which are needed in high amounts throughout the growth season — can be added to mature fields to encourage optimum yields until harvest time.
While it's still too early to know what the yield differences are, the fertigation research is helping to cement the importance of balanced crop nutrition to achieve higher yields. With yield ceilings being pushed ever higher, this new type of irrigation/fertilizer system may be one of the most promising tools for high-yield varieties.