10 May 1996

Tape is a low-cost alternative to surface irrigation systems

IRRIGATION costs could be slashed and potato quality improved, if the claims of Kent-based Field Fumigation hold true.

The company is now marketing irrigation tape which is laid in the ridge, a few inches above the potatoes as they are planted. A mains water supply running along the headlands is then connected to the tape ends. Laying equipment comprises a simple front-mounted spool system – as many spools as rows being planted – from which the tape is pulled off as the tractor moves forwards.

Tape retrieval, when the potatoes are harvested, calls for a powered roller to wind back the tape as the harvester moves forwards.

Intricate design

The tape itself has an intricate design and comprises basically two pipes – one within the other. One acts as the main supply while the second, smaller pipe feeds water out through slits spaced at about 20cm (8in) apart. The smaller pipe contains filters and a length of "chicane" to slow the water down before it passes through the slits.

Operating the system for just one hour a day is sufficient to apply one inch of water a week, says Field Fumigation. Agronomic advantages of the system include a reduction in disease – particularly scab – and better utilisation of fertiliser.

In terms of cost, if the use of tapes avoids a heavy investment in surface irrigation equipment – and their running costs – the system could have some future. Price of tape works out at about £940/ha (£375/acre) if reusable quality tape is used – the manufacturer claims a life of four years – or £575/ha (£230/acre) for one-trip tape. &#42

In-row irrigation for potatoes with the T-Tape system – the tape is laid when the crop is planted, and comes in reusable and one-trip versions.