Irrigation has been a technology that humanity has used for centuries. The Romans built large aqueducts to help facilitate irrigation in some areas and even the Greeks before them used irrigation in different forms to help grow crops. Drop irrigation is different from traditional forms of this practice, however, because instead of large channels of water, a small trickle is used instead to soak the roots of plants through the use of valves, tubing, and piping.
There are actually several stages in the invention process of modern drip irrigation. No one person actually invented this process. It is instead a combination of work that spans over 150 years.
Stage #1: The Initial Concept
The first ideas of modern drip irrigation originated in Germany in 1860. Researchers there began to experiment with irrigation that happened below the surface of the dirt through the use of clay pipes. This created a system that acted as both an irrigation system and a drainage system for the fields where it was installed.
Stage #2: The Transition to Plastic
Although clay was the traditional product used to create irrigation systems, by 1920 the idea was that plastic would be a better option because it was more durable. The Germans continued research into this area, but the credit for using plastic to hold and then distribute water through a modern drip irrigation system for the first time actually belongs to an Australian named Hannis Hill. His work would then be considered the standard for modern drip irrigation for the next two decades.
Stage #3: The Development of an Emitter
The ultimate problem with the traditional drip irrigation methods is that the holes in the piping can become quickly clogged thanks to the dirt that surrounds the system. In 1959, Simcha Blass and his son began experimenting in Israel with a plastic emitter that changed how the water was distributed through the system. In their vision, water would be released through larger and longer piping and water and velocity would be used to slow water down for distribution.
Step #4: Modern Drip Tape
The final stage in the modern drip irrigation evolution process is to completely eliminate the piping and holes that can get clogged, even with a practical surface or underground irrigation system. The first commercial option for this, the drip tape, was created by Richard Chapin of Chapin Watermatics. To irrigate a field with this product, the water would simply seep out of the tape alongside the plants, whether it was above or below the surface of the ground. It was impossible to clog because the dirt had no means of clogging the tape.
Modern drip irrigation could be considered one of the world’s most valuable inventions, considering the agricultural needs of an ever-expanding human population. With water shortages becoming more common in traditional growing areas, the needs for this kind of effective irrigation system will be more important than ever if trends continue as they have been.
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