How to Choose the Right Agricultural Irrigation Pipes
Irrigation is an essential component of modern agriculture. It enables farmers to nourish their lands, even in the driest regions, contributes to a healthier and more bountiful crop yield, and reduces water waste.
However, any type of farming water supply system — be it drip or trickle, center pivot or solid-set sprinklers — will only ever be as good as the network of agricultural irrigation pipes it uses.
Pipes are the hydraulic backbone of every irrigation system. As such, you’ll have to learn which agricultural irrigation pipes are commonly used with today’s farming practices and what factors to consider when deciding on the best ones for your needs.
The 4 Main Types of Agricultural Irrigation Pipes
Four main types of agricultural irrigation pipes are readily available on the market nowadays; what mainly sets them apart is the material they’re made of and the properties that each brings to the table. Here’s a quick overview of them:
1. PVC Pipes
Polyvinyl chloride or PVC pipes are among the most popular choices for agricultural irrigation. The PVC pipes manufacturing process involves combining chlorine and ethylene, which results in a rigid white or light-colored plastic with the following characteristics:
- A smooth surface that facilitates high-pressure water flow and minimizes the risk of clogs and friction loss
- Flexible and can effortlessly be maneuvered around obstacles and fitted through tight spaces
- Customizable and can be cut to size, which is particularly useful for custom irrigation systems
- Extremely durable and long-lasting, with a lifespan of up to 100 years
- Resistant to abrasion, corrosion, chemical buildup and biological growth (such as algae, bacteria and fungi)
- UV radiation-proof and weatherproof, so it can be directly buried in the soil or used above ground without applying any protection
Additionally, PVC is generally more affordable than many other types of agricultural irrigation pipes. For all these reasons, it remains a top pick for countless farmers and ranchers worldwide.
2. HDPE Pipes
High-density polyethylene or HDPE pipes are another go-to material for irrigation piping systems. They share all of the above features with PVC, but there are a few areas where HDPE pipes come out on top.
For example, while PVC is always praised for its durability that towers above cast-iron, ductile iron, steel, concrete and asbestos cement pipes — it’s still outclassed by HDPE’s strength.
You would also think that a hard construct spells rigidity, but in terms of malleability, HDPE pipes still win this round. They’re softer and have a tight bending radius, which makes them easy to install and require fewer fittings.
Moreover, when subjected to environmental elements such as rain, wind, cold and heat, HDPE shows a higher resistance than PVC. HDPE has a failure rating of one in 10,000,000 events compared to PVC’s one in 48,650.
Though a little more expensive than PVC, in the realm of agricultural irrigation pipes, HDPE’s superior properties make it a worthwhile investment, especially for larger farms and vast rural areas.
3. Copper Pipes
At one point, copper pipes were considered the holy grail of all agricultural piping materials. Though they’re still occasionally used for irrigation, their popularity has waned due to their high cost compared to more affordable plastic alternatives and their proneness to corrosion from fertilizers and some types of soils.
To install copper pipes, you may also have to handle soldered fittings, a more time- and labor-intensive process than gluing or snapping plastic joints together, as in PVC and HDPE pipes.
That said, copper still has a few qualities that keep it in the running, such as a high flow rate, a lifespan of nearly 50 years and an aesthetic appeal for surface-level irrigation systems.
4. Galvanized Steel Pipes
Iron pipes, or galvanized steel pipes as they’re known when zinc-coated for protection, are also used in agricultural irrigation. They’re highly durable and built to withstand high water pressures, so they’re commonly used for large-scale irrigation.
However, with galvanized steel pipes, three concerns often rear their heads:
- Mineral buildup: Over time, mineral deposits accumulate within the pipes, which can cause reduced water pressure and discoloration.
- Rust and corrosion: Steel pipes are susceptible to rust and corrosion, which compromises the stability of the piping system and triggers leaks.
- Maintenance: While iron pipes can last up to 40 years with proper maintenance, they do need more upkeep than other materials like HDPE and PVC.
What to Look for in Agricultural Irrigation Pipes
Whether you’re upgrading your current water supply system or installing a new one, the following are a few key factors to keep in mind when weighing your options for agricultural irrigation pipes:
1. Water Pressure
The pressure rating of a pipe is the maximum pounds per square inch (psi) of water load it can endure before failing. This is largely dictated by the material it’s made of (sometimes it even differs within the same type) and other specs like wall thickness and diameter.
For example, if you were to choose PVC pipes, you can pick between schedule 40 with a pressure rating of 450 psi and schedule 80 with a higher rating of 630 psi.
For underground installation, you’ll also have to remember to select pipes with a higher pressure rating to withstand the weight of soil and external elements like rocks and tree roots that may press against them.
2. Resistance to Environmental Factors
Above or below ground, UV rays, temperature fluctuations, soil composition, chemical content in the water, animal activity, and even unanticipated events like earthquakes can all affect the longevity of your irrigation pipes if they’re not built for it.
Consider the climate and terrain your agricultural irrigation pipes will be consistently exposed to or be part of, and find the most suitable material for the job.
How do you plan to install your pipes? How much bending or curving will they have to do? Are there obstacles to evade or incorporate into the layout? Different crops and farming methods may call for unique pipe configurations.
As mentioned, PVC can be more rigid and, therefore, almost always needs straight trenches and more fittings to turn corners, whereas HDPE has more bending capacity.
4. Ease of Installation and Maintenance
While some materials like copper may require a professional’s skill set and tools to be installed, mainly where soldering and brazing are involved, other plastic options are a DIYer’s best friend.
Think of how much time and labor you’re willing to put into your project and the amount of ongoing maintenance it will need. This includes regular cleaning, and the need for repairs or replacements that may arise over the years.
5. Initial Cost
Agricultural irrigation pipes are a long-term investment into the success of your farming operation. As such, you need to balance your budget with the quality, suitability and lifespan potential of the pipes you’re buying.
Build a Stronger Irrigation System With Polyfab
Polyfab Plastic Industry LLC is a UAE-based plastic piping solutions company with a client roster spanning across the globe.
For over 19 years, we’ve been manufacturing PVC and HDPE pipes and fittings as well as piping accessories for the agricultural, commercial and industrial sectors according to the highest international standards.
To learn more about our plastic piping products and installation services, and how we can help you build a sturdier, more efficient irrigation system for you, contact us today.
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