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Adding Value to Irrigation: Understanding Chemigation and Fertigation

Updated: May 19, 2023

From innovative software systems to cutting-edge irrigation and chemigation technologies, agriculture has evolved rapidly. And as it continues to adapt, crop production gets more and more efficient.

But even with more efficiency, many farmers continue to struggle with high input costs and labor shortages, which impacts their bottom line.

One solution to these challenges is chemigation, which uses irrigation infrastructure to precisely deliver fertilizers and chemicals to crops. With this technology, farmers can reduce waste, increase crop yields, and optimize their resource use.

In short? The ultimate tag team in agriculture combines chemical and irrigation systems. By harnessing the power of these tools, farmers can stay ahead of the curve and thrive in a rapidly changing industry.

What is chemigation?

Chemigation is a technique to apply fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides to crops. Chemicals get injected into water, which an irrigation system then distributes throughout the fields.

In essence, chemigation is an all-encompassing term that refers to the application of approved chemicals to crops through the use of irrigation water. When the irrigation water gets herbicide, insecticide, or fungicide injections, the processes are called herbigation, insectigation, and fungigation, respectively.

The chemigation process

To apply chemicals through chemigation, you need a specialized injection device or pump that’s connected to the irrigation system. This device is calibrated to deliver the appropriate amount of chemicals depending on specific crop requirements and irrigation application settings, specifically the system’s coverage rate.

Typically, chemigation applications are made with pressurized sprinkler irrigation systems. For foliar-applied chemistries, the irrigation system operates at high coverage rates with low amounts of water applied to broadcast chemicals on plant leaves. Through the application, the plants absorb the chemicals to achieve the intended effect, such as protection from pests and diseases. For chemicals intended to be absorbed by the roots, higher irrigation rates may be used. Overall, the chemigation process ensures precise application of chemicals with minimal labor, maximizes efficiency and minimizes waste.

What is fertigation?

Fertigation is a subcategory of chemigation. With this approach, the irrigation system delivers water-soluble fertilizers to plants.

The fertigation process

During the fertigation process, fertilizer pumps inject fertilizer from in-field tanks into the irrigation water. The type and quantity of fertilizer depend on various factors, including the crop’s growth stage, soil conditions, and nutrient requirements.

Advantages of chemigation and fertigation:

Depending on specific crop and soil needs, both chemigation and fertigation offer a range of benefits. Here are a few advantages to consider:

  1. Precise applications

A well-designed and maintained chemigation system provides crops with precise amounts of nutrients and protection against pests and diseases. Precision applications also minimize waste and optimize plant growth.

To ensure optimal application timing, you could incorporate a tool like N-Time. When you match your application with the crop’s needs, you can prevent deficiencies, promote healthier plants, and enjoy higher yields.

2. Increased nutrient uptake

Fertigation improves crops’ nutrient uptake efficiency by directly (and quickly) applying fertilizers to the root zone. This is exactly where crops need and absorb nutrients the most. This leads to faster growth and higher yields. Furthermore, low concentrations of fertilizer in water that stays on plant leaves can facilitate foliar uptake of nutrients.

3. Reduced costs

Although installing a chemigation system comes with initial costs, the long-term benefits of precise, timely chemical and fertilizer applications far outweigh those costs. One of the most significant advantages of using fertigation or chemigation for corn and various other crops is the reduced input costs, particularly for fertilizers.

When combined with a tool like N-Time™, fertigation systems can get crops the nutrients they need, when they need them. This reduces unnecessary application passes – which saves you money in fuel, labor, and the fertilizer itself (particularly crucial during nitrogen price hikes). With N-Time™, you can accurately time fertigation events and apply the right amount of fertilizer. And you may even spend less time manually transporting trucks, sprayers, and other ground rigs to and from fields.

4. Reduced environmental impact

Precise chemical and fertilizer applications can make farmers more responsible land stewards. A chemigation or fertigation system can reduce over-application, waste, leaching into soil and groundwater, and runoff to surface water. Appropriately scheduling fertigation only when needed eliminates unnecessary irrigation and fertigation passes, reducing both water usage and fertilizer over-application.

Allowing your irrigation system to apply water and nutrients directly to plant root zones avoids soil disturbance and protects soil structure and biology. Less soil compaction and erosion mean better overall soil health.

The bottom line

Despite requiring an initial investment and involved setup, chemigation systems have more long-term benefits than costs. Typically, a chemigation system includes tanks, pumps, and injection equipment designed to inject chemicals at the appropriate rate and give you control over application timing. (You can learn more about potential equipment needs in our other blog here).

The prospect of investing in, maintaining, and operating irrigation and chemigation systems may seem overwhelming. But these practices, especially fertigation for corn crops, are increasingly popular for a reason. They provide significant benefits to crops and the environment.

Chemigation systems, combined with advanced tools such as N-Time, have the potential to significantly improve crop nutrition and quality, soil fertility, and environmental sustainability for years to come.

To stay up-to-date on the latest developments in fertigation, we encourage you to follow Sentinel Fertigation on social media and our website. If you have any questions or concerns, don't hesitate to reach out to our team.

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