New equipment allows easier drip tape installation and removal

An Agricultural Research Service scientist has developed farm equipment that installs drip tapes on or just beneath the soil surface to precisely irrigate crops after seeds are planted. The same equipment can retrieve the drip tapes after crops are harvested. The apparatus works with reusable or disposable drip tape.

The new equipment was designed by Heping Zhu, an agricultural engineer at the ARS National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga. The device uniformly distributes drip tape, extracts water from it, holds and supports the tape, and guides and adjusts its installation.

The machinery chisels shallow trenches in the soil, places the tape in the trenches and then covers the tape with soil. Depth of drip tapes can be adjusted from 0 to 5 centimeters.

To retrieve disposable drip tapes, a special spool, mounted with a 3-point hitch behind the tractor, was developed to quickly remove the tapes from the unit. The inexpensive apparatus both installs and retrieves the tape.

During removal, Zhu's device layers the drip tape evenly across rotating spools, which squeeze out any remaining water. Retrieval speed can be adjusted by changing the tractor power takeoff speed. The drip tapes can then be reused during subsequent growing seasons.

In many crop production schemes, drip irrigation has advantages over other methods. It has been widely used in various applications throughout the world, resulting in crop yield increases and improved water conservation.

But surface drip irrigation's disadvantage is that users have to install and retrieve drip tapes every year, requiring high labor costs and more time. So the new equipment should greatly benefit farmers using surface drip irrigation technology by increasing their crop yield and reducing their production costs. ARS is seeking a partner to further develop and commercialize the device.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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