Insights from your Trusted Irrigation Specialists in Ontario

An Expert Guide to Irrigation System Design

An Expert Guide to Irrigation System Design

Insights from your Trusted Irrigation Specialists in Ontario

From agricultural farms to lush golf courses, sprawling resorts and large estates, sprinklers and irrigation systems are critical for maintaining and managing outdoor spaces for large properties. Proper planning and design can help you set up an Irrigation Water Management (IWM) system that conserves resources, reduces waste, increases output, and addresses the needs of your property. Considering its impact on the environment, the future of irrigation is about making every drop of water count!

The experienced IWM professionals at Vanden Bussche Irrigation offer a complete guide to designing and maintaining irrigation systems for your farm, orchard, golf course or large property in Ontario.

Key Factors to Consider in Irrigation System Design

As property owners, managers, or professional landscapers, you must consider numerous factors while selecting and installing an irrigation system for each property.

Determining the correct type of irrigation system requires an understanding of the following:

  • Property Management: What are your key operations, maintenance requirements, and budget? Irrigation experts need to work closely with the irrigator/ end customer to collaborate and develop the most suitable plan for the property.
  • The Source of Water: Is the water supply source surface or groundwater? Is it a municipal source? A surface water source may need a sophisticated filtration system to clean the water, whereas, for groundwater, you may need just a simple inline screen.
  • Quality of Water: What is the amount of sodium (Na), Calcium (Ca), and Magnesium (Mg) content in the water? If the water is highly saline, certain types of sprinkler irrigation systems may not work well for your property.
  • Flow Rate of Water: A sprinkler or micro-irrigation system can work well at a constant flow or lower water application rate, while surface systems need a relatively higher flow for operating at maximum efficiency.
  • Soil Quality: What is the quality of soil on your property? What is the soil's water holding capacity (whc), transmissivity (the ability of water to move through the soil), and permeability? While surface irrigation systems have a dependency on permeability levels, transmissivity influences the choice of components, such as drip emitters.

For agricultural farms, the choice of irrigation system will also have a close linkage to: 

  • The types of crops that you can or cannot grow. If there is a mismatch between the water source, water quality, and the needs of the crop you planted, it could result in yield reduction or even crop failure. 
  • The length of your growing season, which can help you justify your overall irrigation budget. 
  • The location of the property could impact the irrigation system's ability to withstand extreme weather conditions, proximity to wildlife, or other potential obstructions.

Surface Irrigation Methods

In this form of irrigation, water is applied and distributed over the soil surface through gravity. Surface irrigation methods have evolved into a wide array of configurations. Some of the key ones are as below:

  • Basic Irrigation: Ideal for small fields that are level in all directions and encompassed by a dyke to prevent runoff. This type of irrigation involves uniform sheets of water ponding over extended periods, which suit crops, such as rice or paddy.
  • Border or Graded Border Irrigation: Perfect for fields that are sloping, contoured, or rectangular, with free-draining conditions at the lower end. In border irrigation, water usually flows between the dykes that divide the property into the sloping borders. 
  • Furrow Irrigation: In this type of surface irrigation system, the water flows down trenches or 'furrows' dug between the crop rows in the field. While you can individually control the flow to each furrow, the water seeps horizontally or vertically to refill the soil reservoir. This system is most suited to row crops, orchards, vineyards, or berry farms that feature gentle slopes and any soil type except a coarsetextured one. 
  • Corrugation Irrigation: Suited to fields with close-growing crops on rolling land, this system prevents erosive water accumulation on lands too steep for border or basin irrigation. 

All forms of flood irrigation are very rarely utilized in Canada anymore. These methods involve a very inefficient use of water with little control over uniformity. For informational purposes, we offer a quick overview below, but we do not recommend these methods of irrigation.

  • Controlled Flooding Irrigation: Formerly used for close-growing crops.
  • Wild Flood Irrigation: Water runs through a ditch or pipe and flows over the soil surface through the crops. This system was used previously for uneven terrains, especially to irrigate small grains, hay, or pastures. The method offers little to no control and delivers non-uniform wetting on rolling or sloping lands.

Sprinkler Irrigation Methods

Adapted to nearly all crops and irrigable soils, except in windy, extremely hot climates, sprinkler irrigation systems apply water in a precise and controlled manner, similar to the effect of rainfall. Water distribution happens through a network of pipes, valves, water pumps, and sprinkler heads. From simple, long 30-foot aluminum pipes with sprinklers along their length to advanced systems with high-end programmable features, there are a number of sprinkler irrigation systems available on the market. Here are some of the key methods of sprinkler irrigation:

  • Linear or Lateral Move: Suitable for rectangular fields, these systems can operate on low pressure while providing good water control. The system features several spray heads and drip tubes to reduce evaporative losses and wind drift. 
  • Hand Move Systems: Although they are amongst the least expensive types of sprinkler irrigation, portable hand move systems are labour-intensive and not well suited for tall crops. However, they are ideal for rolling terrain or irregularly shaped properties.
  • Side Rolls or Power Rolls: In this system, you can move long lines with motors or tractors, making them less labour-intensive than hand-move systems. They are well-suited to rectangular fields, where you can irrigate in place and easily move from point A to point B between the irrigation runs. 
  • Solid Set: Easily automated and programmable, fixed solid set systems offer high application uniformity along with a low labour requirement.
  • Centre Pivot: Applying small amounts of water at shorter intervals to a specific area of the crop, the centre-pivot sprinkler irrigation system consists of a span of pipes loaded on a wheeled A-frame tower that is self-propelled around a centre-pivot point. 
  • Big Gun® (Stationery or Traveling): Minimizing labour-intensive tasks and suited for soils with high intake rates, the Big Gun® sprinkler systems offer portability, ease of use, and versatility. They are safe and suitable for all field shapes.

Besides the traditional spray system, sprinkler irrigation systems also include: 

  • Low-volume Sprinkler Systems: Water-efficient systems that use a fraction of the water and supply it slowly to the soil. These systems are customizable to meet the requirements of a variety of plants and crops and are available in different types, such as bubblers, misters and foggers. For delicate plant material, especially in propagation, micro-sprayers are a good form of irrigation.
  • Rotor Systems: These systems are installed underground. Water pressure pushes these sprinklers to "pop up" when operational.  When the system is shut down, these spring-loaded sprinklers will then go back underground. They release water at a continuous but slower rate, allowing the ground to absorb the water at its own pace. These systems are well suited to large parks and sprawling golf courses as they can cover a radius of up to 100-feet, with flows as high as 80 gallons per minute (GPM).

Drip Irrigation: Trickle Irrigation

Also called trickle irrigation, the drip irrigation system involves dripping water into the soil at very low rates, such as 0.2 GPH - 10 GPH (gallons per hour). These systems use a series of polyethylene tubing or tape, usually low to the ground, to avoid runoff and evaporation. Depending on the lay of the land, the drip emitters typically fall near the soil that surrounds the plants, allowing the water to drip directly where needed.

Trickle irrigation systems come in three main types:

  • Surface Trickle Drip Irrigation Systems: These are ideal for orchards, vineyards, or fields with row crops. The system can adapt to any water intake rate, field shape, and slope. 
  • Sub-Surface Trickle Drip Irrigation Systems: In these systems, the technicians bury the drip line (drippers and tubing) under the soil's surface instead of laying them on the ground. The soil type and root structures of the plants play a key role in determining the depth and distance of the drip lines.
  • Micro Spray or Mist Drip Irrigation System: These systems are best suited for vegetable gardens, flower beds, ground cover, and landscapes where you need to cover large areas of land. They feature a variety of drip emitters, including sprayers, misters (foggers), or micro-sprinkler risers and stakes.

Sub-Surface Micro Irrigation System

A popular micro-irrigation system, a sub-surface drip irrigation (SDI) system directs water to the plant root zone through sub-surface applicators. Micro-irrigation systems feature the same components as a surface drip irrigation system, including valves, pressure regulators, water pumps, backflow preventers, chemical injectors, filters, and a series of tubes and pipes.

One of the key advantages of SDI systems is that they are low-pressure, low-volume systems that can increase the yield of high-value crops while also reducing the water, pesticide, nutrient and labour requirements for your field, farm, or commercial property. Moreover, since they apply water directly to the plant's root zone, they help reduce weed growth and increase the efficiency of fertilizers. You can use SDI for sloping, as well as irregular-shaped lands. Factors such as the land topography, soil type, plant or crop types, and climate remain important considerations during the design, installation, and maintenance of sub-surface irrigation systems.

Top Irrigation and Farm Equipment in Our Portfolio

At Vanden Bussche Irrigation, we have over 200 years of combined experience in designing and installing irrigation systems. We are the national leaders in irrigation application products across agricultural, residential, commercial and golf markets and offer a comprehensive range of irrigation systems and farm equipment. From controls, water pumps, fabrication and fittings, to valves, pipes, and hoses, we offer our customers a vast array of high-quality products from world-renowned manufacturers. 

Whether it is limited water resources, difficulties in access to power, or some other obstacles, our skilled technicians can help you address any irrigation challenge related to irrigation systems installation and maintenance. Check out our extensive product catalogue and count on us for all your irrigation needs.

Reach out to our technical experts at a convenient location  near you, or contact us  online, and one of our representatives will get in touch with you soon.