Valley Blog

Valley® Irrigation is the worldwide leader in precision irrigation. The Valley brand of center pivot, linear, and corner equipment provides solutions for conserving water and meeting the growing demand for food.

Drip Irrigation vs. Center Pivots: Separating Fact From Fiction: Part 1

by User Not Found | Aug 30, 2018

Over time, two different types of irrigation have been recognized as superior methods — drip and center pivots. Growers now associate certain pluses and minuses with each. Some of these assumptions are true. Some are myths. 

So how do you make a decision between the two? You compare the facts. This is the first of a series of blog posts that will address some of these misconceptions. Read this, then check back soon for part 2!

Separating Fact From Fiction

There are many important factors, but here are three main things to consider:

  1. Initial Investment Cost – Pivots cost $600/acre* less, and retain their value.
  2. Labor – One person can remotely manage numerous pivots irrigating thousands of acres.
  3. Peace of Mind – Drip systems depend on water quality, consistent maintenance and other factors.

Both options offer water efficiency of 90% or more, and drip irrigation definitely has its place; it can be effective in some settings. For example, in small or irregularly shaped fields, drip is often a viable option. But in many other situations, center pivot irrigation is more cost effective and offers growers maximum control – and greater peace of mind.

pivotCenter pivots provide growers with peace of mind, water efficiency and maximum yields in their large fields.

Of course, when it comes to center pivots, you will never find better, more durable products and technology than those from Valley® Irrigation.

  1. Initial investment costs

When it comes to initial investment costs, center pivots are much less expensive than drip irrigation – more than $600 per acre less ($1,700 per hectare less).

Center Pivots Cost Less and Retain their Value

Initial Investment Costs


Center Pivot




Total Savings



Cost per acre



Savings per acre



Lamm, Freddie R.; O’Brien, Daniel M.; Rogers, Danny H. “Using the K-State Center Pivot Sprinkler and SDI Economic Comparison Spreadsheet – 2018”: 2-4

On average, pivots also last longer – 25 years or longer is normal for Valley® equipment. The longevity of drip systems is improving, but that still depends on numerous factors and some “big ifs,” including error-free system management.

Plus, even after 15 years of consistent work, Valley pivots retain 50% of their resale value. Sellers of drip systems cannot say the same.

drip                                Out of sight, out of mind -- until there's a problem. The nature of drip irrigation systems makes it hard to  identify and address problems, since they are buried underground.

  1. Labor

Drip systems require more labor and a higher level of management to operate and maintain. Some remote technology exists, but drip irrigation management is still largely a manual process – it can takeseveral hours to walk a field monitoring, flushing and maintaining the filters and lines. Center pivots are a different story.

One person can remotely manage multiple machines covering thousands of acres in minutes, using today’s computerized controls. Plus, you don’t have to hire people to install and remove equipment season after season.

Labor Comparison Between

Subsurface Drip Irrigation and Center Pivots




Daily Maintenance

Flush filter


Weekly Maintenance

Flush lines; Chlorinate;

Check system pressure at various points; Monitor system flow rates


Monthly Maintenance

Flush lines

Grease swivel

Annual Maintenance

Filter; Check valves; Confirm emitter performance; Chlorinate

Check oil levels in gearboxes and center drives


  1. Peace of Mind

Drip irrigation requires more management even if everything goes correctly, which is often a very big if. Too often, SDI systems are “out of sight, out of mind.” With a pivot, you have greater peace of mind.

  • Drip systems are dependent on the skill of the person doing the work, and cannot be changed after installation. Center pivot installations are comparatively simple, the system is more flexible to changing demands, and the equipment is more forgiving.
  • Center pivots offer more advanced remote monitoring, and it is easier to address potential problems than with drip, when pipes and tape are buried under the ground. A clogged irrigation nozzle is a brief inconvenience; a clogged drip system is a large, time-consuming expense.
  • Plugging remains a persistent problem with drip irrigation, and performance is highly dependent on water quality. Using wastewater requires more – and larger – equipment.

About Andy Oerman

Sr. Copywriter/Content Strategist
Valley Irrigation

Andy Oerman grew up on a small farm in Burt County, Nebraska, loving the land but knowing his vocation would take him in other directions. He has earned a bachelor’s in Journalism and a master’s in English. He joined Valley Irrigation in 2018, bringing more than 20 years of writing, editing and strategic experience to their marketing team. In his free time, he enjoys sports, reading, movies, spending time with his wife and family, and chasing around their pets.