Operation of a Subsurface Drip Irrigation (SDI) system under National Organic Plan (NOP) Standards

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $14,560.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Minor Morgan
North Valley Organics

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, oats, rye, sorghum (milo), sunflower, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, peas (culinary), peppers, tomatoes, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: ornamentals


  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, farm-to-institution
  • Pest Management: biological control, cultural control, mulches - living, cultivation
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, soil chemistry, soil physics, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, urban agriculture, community services

    Proposal summary:

    Subsurface Drip Irrigation (SDI) is a well established protocol used by the major producers of vegetables in the United States. The technology- involving plastic drip tape permanently buried 4"-12" below the ground- has been widely researched and has proven to conserve water and be an excellent way to grow high value vegetable crops. We have just installed 16 acres in SDI at Rio Grande Community Farm (RGCF). Organic growing methods as outlined under the National Organic Plan have proven very beneficial to the soil and environment and produce crops that are pesticide and fertilizer free. Both of these systems are well researched and well established in the United States. However, there are very few farms that have used SDI under organic certification. In extensive research, we have located only 3 farms that are certified organic and that use SDI. The goal of this grant is to demonstrate and document the effectiveness of using SDI under organic certification. This growing system combines the benefits of large scale water conservation and plant fertilization obtained with SDI with the environmental and soil conserving benefits of organic methods. As part of documenting our activities we will engage in extensive data collection. Our goal is to document and demonstrate the effective combination of 2 very important and widespread systems. Nowhere in any of the SDI or organic literature is there any documentation of processes and procedures used when the 2 systems are combined. In this way, this project will be a true "demonstration" project and will be a source of information for both the SDI and Organic agriculture communities. We are truly in a unique position to make a major contribution to our agricultural knowledge base. The SDI system at Rio Grande Community Farms consists of 16 acres of permanently buried drip tape that is organized into 36' wide beds separated by an 8' drive path. There are 7 zones allowing us to grow 7 (or more) different crops at a time. We are using both organic and SDI processes to grow a variety of crops. With the changing weather patterns and the ever increasing need to conserve water and maximize both soil health and crop yields, this "merging" of these 2 most important vegetable growing systems will provide information that is national in scope. We intend to demonstrate- and document- the successful application of organic methods to the SDI system.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Overall Project Objective: To clearly document the procedures, processes and activities involved in operating a subsurface drip irrigation system under NOP organic certification.

    Goal #1: The following information will be quantified and recorded:
    - exact sequence of all tillage procedures, including specific SDI implements used
    - schedule of all crop rotations including cover crops, green manure and cash crops
    - schedule of all traditional organic methods used: mulching, side dressing, foliar feeding, etc.
    - schedule of all irrigation events
    - exact brand, quantity, potency and proportion of all inputs injected into system

    - exact injection procedures and equipment used, including dilution procedures
    - detailed descriptions of all system maintenance procedures, including emitter diagnostics
    - records of all water use by zone
    - crop yields and outputs
    - soil and water test results

    Goal #2: Using information gathered in #1 above, produce and publish a Monograph entitled:
    "The Operation of a Subsurface Drip Irrigation System for Vegetable Production for Small Farms of 10-100 acres under Organic Certification: Processes, Procedures and Schedules"

    Goal #3: Actively disseminate the above Monograph (and other materials) thru a variety of venues: WSARE, conferences, extension service, USDA, professional publications, etc.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.