What is Fertigation and How Does it Work?

What is Fertigation and How Does it Work?
External Guest Writer
February 23, 2021

Although fertilizers are a crucial component of farming, they are known to have a deeply negative impact on our planet. Some of the ill effects of fertilizer use on farmlands include the depletion of oxygen levels in the water table and excessive growth of weeds and algae.

Despite these compounding negative impacts, it’s nearly impossible to conduct traditional farming practices without the use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides. This is why the concept of fertigation has taken off so rapidly in the recent years, as it offers a balance between the use of fertilizers and traditional irrigation methods.

We look at the exact meaning of fertigation, the manner in which it’s executed, and the positive and negative effects of this practice in the following article.

What is Fertigation?

Fertigation is a concept that relies on using the existing irrigation line operating in a field in order to inject plants with the required fertilizers. Fertigation has been developed after a process known as chemigation that also relies on the existing irrigation line in order to offer nutritious chemicals to the produce.

Although chemigation and fertigation are used interchangeably from time to time, the fact is that chemigation is purely related to the use of chemicals such as fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides. 

In fertigation, however, the only additions made to the water in the irrigation line is the addition of nutritious fertilizers. As fertigation relies on the liquid application of nutrients directly to the roots of the plants, it is generally seen to be more effective than traditional agricultural practices.

How Does It Work?

The manner in which a fertigation set-up is established largely down to the size and scale of a given farmland. In general, however, large tanks are sourced for the purpose of fertigation and are stored in a space that’s accessible to the farms.

These tanks are used to store and divert liquid fertilizers onto the nearby fields. This is done with the help of injectors that can gently imbue the liquid fertilizers into the irrigation channel with the help of a valve. This valve also has a pressure-control mechanism that can control the flow of liquid fertilizers into the irrigation line.

As the setup and operation of this method is fairly straightforward, it can be used for various types of irrigation system arrangements that include flood irrigation and drip irrigation. 

It’s also possible to manually control the flow of fertigation channels, thereby providing you with the option of only directing it towards certain sections or growhouses.

How to Fertigate Plants

In order to fertigate plants, the first major piece of equipment required in this process is the establishment of an irrigation system. If an irrigation system is already in place, it’s vital to ensure that there is a backflow preventer installed so as to prevent the contamination of the water source with fertilizers. Establishing irrigation systems is an important process in starting off any type of plant fertigation system.

It’s also possible to create a DIY system that uses various adjusters such as timers, pumps, and emitters in order to modify the irrigation line based on your fertigation needs.

After the setup is up and running, it’s important to understand which of the crops requires fertigation. It’s also vital to determine the frequency with which the plants receive this dual dose of nutrition.

The rule of thumb for lawns is that they need to be fertilized four to sex times each year in order to retain consistency. This again comes down to the type of grass growing on the lawns as each variant has its own unique requirements. Fertigation of cool season grasses, for example, should occur at least twice a year—once during the winter season, and again at the time of early fall. 

For annual and perennial plants, however, fertigation systems aren’t known to be the most effective as their requirements tend to be highly distinctive and subjective in nature. In such situations, it makes more sense to utilize foliar spray or rely on the use of organic compost.

Fertigation System in Plants: The Good and the Bad

The Good

Supplementing the Soil

Although the soil offers plenty of nutrition for various plants in fertile regions, it’s not enough to purely rely on the nutrition offered by the soil for all types of crops. Certain fruits and vegetables require an additional source of nutrition, and it comes down to farmers to figure out how they plan to offer this auxiliary source to their produce.

Organic compost is considered a great way to compliment the nutrition from the soil, but this method has its own limitations as well. Fertigation, on the other hand, offers a quick and relatively easy solution to provide fertilizers to similar plants across the farm lands.

Combining Nutritional Sources

With fertigation systems, it’s possible to combine various important fertilizers simultaneously in order to provide a rich diet to the plants and vegetables on a farm. Most often, the types of fertilizers utilized in fertigation systems include:

  • Potassium chloride
  • Diammonium phosphate
  • Monoammonium
  • Urea
  • Ammonium Nitrate
  • Phosphate

Thus the culmination of various fertilizers work more efficiently on certain plants and this can be executed with immense efficiency.

Time Saver

As the fertilizers are directly injected into the irrigation line, it hardly takes any time to evenly distribute the nutrition for similar crops across the field. This ends up saving a lot of time and effort for farmers.

The Bad

The major disadvantage related to the use of a fertigation system is the lack of uniformity and control. This rings especially true when you have a farm or garden with numerous plans. These plants can be watered near-evenly, but the subjective distribution of fertilizers is unfortunately not possible in such situations.

Fertigate, Don’t Profligate

Fertigation systems have an extremely specific purpose and can be doubly useful when it comes to offering water and nutrition to large, uniform fields. Once it becomes possible to control the flow of nutrition based on the requirements of the plants, the potential for this system will become near-limitless as well.