Fertigation is a method of automation used on many crops of agriculture. It utilizes your irrigation system to deliver a slow, steady supply of nutrients to the plant. In this article, we’ll explain what fertigation is, it’s value to your operation, and why you should explore this option.
What is Fertigation?
The traditional way to fertilize is to incorporate fertilizer in with a potting mix and put it in a pot prior to planting, or just add the dry fertilizer o the pot as needed. Simply put, fertigation allows you to apply fertilizer through your irrigation system. It uses the irrigation system to deliver a slow, steady supply of nutrients to your crop. This can help save growers time, minimize error and potential waste, and help improve consistency in their crops.
Organic and synthetic fertilizers are both commonly used in fertigation, and in some cases, other enhancements are added as well. There are several benefits to this method of fertilization.
Healthier plants. A fertigation system provides continuous feeding of nutrients at levels that encourage optimal plant health. This slow, steady delivery of nutrients can result in hardier plants that are less susceptible to drought and disease.
Fertigation enables growers to give their plants the perfect amount of nutrients each time that, because they’re already in the solution, and are available to the roots immediately. This can help save growers time, minimize error and potential waste, and help improve consistency in their crops.
How Does It Work?
Fertigation systems inject fertilizer into the water in your irrigation system. The process of fertigation removes the hassle of hand-mixing from the equation, saving growers time and keeping their crops consistent. It essentially automates the fertilizing process, reducing margins for human error.
Just like with any irrigation system, the nutrient solution goes through a soluble mixing process in the water tank then through your irrigation system’s water lines to be given to the plant through a pump that feeds the cannabis plant on a schedule. This allows growers much more control over their plants’ nutrients, but we’ll dive further into that later in the article.
Types of Fertigation Systems
There are two types of fertigation systems: one, meant for smaller grow operations that handle only one type of fertilizer at a time and requires minimal manual operation. The other, meant for larger operations that are capable of handling multiple fertilizers. Fertigation systems can help growers focus on efficiency, cutting costs in production, minimizing the potential for errors, and improving consistency in their crops.
The smaller fertigation systems have to be adjusted and calibrated by hand. However, once calibrated they are useful to automate smaller grow operations. For larger systems, there are a few more options and variations available.
The larger systems range in size and complexity. They can handle several nutrient recipes at one time. Usually, they have software interfaces to control the pH factor, climate control, even sounding an alarm when something goes wrong. Some systems will shut off if the grower doesn’t address the issue when the alarm is sounding.
Why Should You Consider Investing in a Fertigation System?
Let’s start with labor savings. With fertigation, the irrigation system does the work. The only labor required is replenishing the supply of fertilizer in the system, monitoring plant health, and making any adjustments as needed.
Less waste. With fertigation, nutrients are immediately available to plants in quantities they need. Therefore, a smaller amount of product is needed overall to do the job.
Reduced runoff. Because smaller concentrations of fertilizer are applied and delivered at a rate that can be readily absorbed by plants, there is less of it available for pollution from runoff.
Water savings. Plants that are given a continuous supply of nutrients tend to develop stronger root systems that can take in water more effectively, so they stay green and healthy with less water. Perhaps the most important of these advantages lies with plant health.
“With traditional fertilization, you offer a ‘feast or famine’ cycle,” says Denne Goldstein, founder and former publisher of Irrigation & Green Industry magazine. “You get an initial surge of green that dies back over time. The kind of fertigation we practice, known as ‘controlled micro-dosing,’ does the opposite. It delivers a very small but very even amount of fertilizer every time you water. You’re providing a nutrient-rich environment all the time.” All of this can mean greener landscapes that are less dependent on chemicals and excess water.
With these benefits, it’s no wonder that fertigation is catching on quickly with growers who are looking for better ways for greater efficiencies.
Fertigation systems vary greatly in levels of complexity and price. For smaller operations, the minor convenience may not be worth the large investment. However, for larger growers, it could be more than worth it. Fertigation systems can help growers with larger operations focus on efficiency, cutting costs in production, minimizing the potential for errors, and improving consistency in their crops.
How Much Will It Cost?
Commercial fertigation systems can cost between $1,000 upwards to about $10,000. Keep in mind that for a larger grower, adding multi-feed injection systems and a controller as well as a complete operating system, the cost can run as high as $40,000 – $45,000.
There are also quite a few hidden costs of which growers should be wary. One cost you’ll need to factor in is that of PVC; to get your fertigation off to a good start, you’re going to need an unbelievable amount of PVC. There are also certain hardware accessories that, while they aren’t necessary for operation, can help to optimize your fertigation system, so things run as smoothly as possible; extras like a mixing machine or potting machine are examples of such hardware that can help you get the most out of your fertigation system.
One of the most helpful pieces of equipment you can invest in, at an additional cost, is a centralized operating system or computer software that can help you keep an eye on all automated parts of your growing operation. A system or software like this can help you collect massive amounts of data to give you an instant analysis of what in your routine is working and what isn’t. It also measures all the important things your plant needs to maintain optimal health, such as pH, EC, light temperature, stock tanks, raw fertilizers, and more, saving you tons of time and labor, while removing the margin for human error.
Another extra that is likely worth the investment is an ebb and flow bench. An ebb and flow bench can help save you 60-90% in labor when paired with your fertigation system. This accessory is a hydroponic system that uses and drains recirculated or discharged irrigation water, helping to save you money in both water usage and labor.
For smaller grow operations, there are some systems that are quite inexpensive and will fit your needs; however, for larger operations, the investment can be well worth it. Fertigation systems can pay for themselves in just one harvest with how much they can save you. It’s worth it to do it right the first time and optimize your system as much as you can afford to.
When you’ve decided to purchase a fertigation system, keep in mind that preventative maintenance will save you lots of downtime down the road. Now you should take the time to learn some basic tips for regular maintenance. You should inspect every one of your lines each day to check for potential leaks and ensure your cannabis plants are getting an even dose; a single leak anywhere could be highly detrimental to your plants and your system on the whole.
A crucial part of maintenance that often gets forgotten is cleaning your lines and tanks after each use. When you don’t clean your tanks and lines properly, it can cause a build-up of sedimentation and can affect pH levels. You can clean these with a mix of hydrogen peroxide and water, but any organic method will work, so long as you flush both the tanks and lines with water after you’ve cleaned them, it should keep the system from affecting the mixtures.
Clogs can be a huge pain in a fertigation system, but there are a few daily maintenance things you can do to prevent them from occurring. For instance, flushing your system of organic nutrients or draining the distribution lines with flush valves each night can help to reduce your risk of getting clogs. Furthermore, you can inject an oxidizer into your lines every couple of months can also help to prevent clogging from biofilm build-up.
Though an investment in a fertigation system can help you to expand your growing operation successfully, the amount this system can save you in labor and water usage causes it to pay for itself in as little as one harvest. Fertigation systems can be a great way to begin to automate and optimize your entire grow operation.