The State of Drip Irrigation in the US: Insights from Doron Mamo Ahead of the 2017 Irrigation Show

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2017 Irrigation Show

The irrigation industry is coming together on November 8-10 for the 2017 Irrigation Show in Orlando, Florida. Ahead of the show we asked Doron Mamo, CEO of DRTS to share his insights about the current state of the US irrigation market, as well as some thoughts for the future.

The irrigation business in the US is divided between three major industries. The first is landscaping, including golf courses, universities, hotels, and sports fields. The second is agriculture, which remains a slower growing sector for drip irrigation but is still a significant market. The third sector is mining, which is turning into an impressive market as heap leach (HL) efficiencies increase and precious metal prices continue to provide healthy margins.

Manufacturing Drip Irrigation Products

“In the 1980s when I first started working in drip irrigation, agriculture in the US used drip irrigation methods for about 12% of crops,” Mr. Mamo shared. “This has grown to around 35%, but compared to other countries, implementation is still low meaning there is plenty of room for market growth. There are a handful of major players and smaller players in the drip irrigation market providing mainly two types of agricultural products: long term dripline and short term tape.”

The long-term pipe is mainly used in applications such as trees or fruit where the tubing stays on the ground in the same place for five to ten years and is nourishing the same crop year after year. While more expensive than seasonal tape, this product provides a higher rate of flow and is cost-effective for long-term installation.

For seasonal crops such as tomatoes or cucumbers, short-term slit tape products have a thin wall and thus use 90% less material to manufacture. They also have a lower flow rate. Tape is the fastest growing segment of the drip irrigation market as its price point and speed of installation make it easier for farmers to implement. Farmers run tape along crop rows on the ground, use it for the season, harvest the crop, pull up the tape, and then do it all over again with new tape the following season.

US Adoption of Drip Irrigation in Agriculture

“One major reason the agricultural market in the US is so slow to adopt drip irrigation has to do with the way the water right laws are structured,” Mr. Mamo explained. “If, for example, a farmer has a certain allotment of water, they must use their entire allotment for the year or lose it in the future. This is why, for so many farms, the main form of irrigation is still flooding.”

Without any incentive to use drip irrigation on smaller farms, the main market is currently the large production corporate farms that understand and benefit from the value drip irrigation brings in efficiency and automation when applied to larger volumes of crops. Other countries have incentivized the installation of drip irrigation systems by offering subsidies or, in Australia, allowing farmers to sell their extra water allotment.

Recently, droughts in California have highlighted the problems in production that arise when there is a reduced availability of water for flood irrigation. Farmers are simply taking acres of their land out of production because they do not have access to enough water to continue to grow the volume of crops. Under a system like Australia’s, a drought condition would simply mean farmers would have less spare water to sell, but production would remain consistent.

A Note on Mining

Heap leach mining is an industry that many drip manufacturers neglected until recently because it is a difficult market to penetrate. There is a lot of secrecy surrounding mining techniques and the knowledge base is limited outside of the mining industry. The industry has matured since the 1960s yet most drip manufacturers are still not providing specialized drip mining products but rather are retiring the older larger agriculture drippers to mining. These older products are less sensitive to clogging but they are not optimized for mining so their field performance is lacking.

About 5 years ago DRTS singled out the HL market as a focus of our dripper development. Our Minoro dripper had great success in the lab under heavy grit testing – in fact, the best performance of a low flow 1 liter per hour (at 15psi) mining dripper the lab had ever seen. Today the Minoro dripper continues its testing in the field. We are just now beginning to see full adoption in significant heap leach operations and the results have been extremely impressive. The Minoro mining dripper has outperformed all products considered best in class and we are very excited to collaborate with more mining system suppliers.

The US could be the world’s largest market for drip irrigation and participants at the 2017 Irrigation Show are a large part of the reason this market continues to grow. “There are still opportunities to change policies, incentivize farmers to install more efficient irrigation systems, and continue to modernize irrigation practices,” Mr. Mamo shared. “I’m looking forward to the chance to exchange ideas and continue to push the state of the industry forward.”

Doron Mamo, CEO of DRTS, is available for private meetings and factory tours. To schedule a meeting please contact us here.

Request a meeting with Doron Mamo