5 Key Differences Between Drip Irrigation And Sprinkler Irrigation

Irrigation is imperative in farming, especially in areas with irregular or scanty rainfall. A well-functioning irrigation system ensures good yield as it catalyzes the nutrient-absorption process.

Two of the most used landscapes and crop field watering systems are sprinkler irrigation and drip irrigation. With more focus on sustainable agriculture, most farmers are leveraging these irrigation systems for higher ROI and optimal water use.

Both of these irrigation systems work best when applied correctly. As each crop type has different requirements, you must understand the fundamental differences to choose the best irrigation system.

Here, in this article, you will get to know how drip and sprinkler irrigation systems differ so you can make the right choice. But first, let’s start with the definitions.


What is Drip Irrigation?

Drip Irrigation focuses on providing water up to the root of the plants. Here the water supply is controlled so that when it drops, it falls at the designated place. It is highly water-efficient as it requires just around 50% of the water used in other conventional irrigation systems.

In drip irrigation phenomena, long water pipes are placed near the ground and open at regular intervals as per the requirements. Therefore, it can be applied to areas where water availability is marginal.

A typical drip system consists of the following farming equipment:

  • Pump unit
  • Control head
  • Main and sub-main lines
  • Laterals
  • Emitters or drippers


What is Sprinkler Irrigation?

Sprinkler irrigation simulates natural rainfall. It uses pressurized sprinklers and other hydraulic devices to distribute water from overhead uniformly, just like a rainfall would.

Here, the water is sprayed into the air through sprinklers. An adequately set up sprinkler system ensures uniform water spray with the right amount of water covering all ends of the farming area.

A typical sprinkler system consists of the following farming equipment:

  • Pump unit
  • Mainline and sometimes sub-main lines
  • Laterals
  • Sprinklers


Difference Between Drip Irrigation and Sprinkler Irrigation

Drip and sprinkler irrigation are the two most common irrigation systems critical drivers of sustainable farming. The differences between the two are listed below.

  1. Water Used-
  • Sprinkler irrigation uses more water to spray the water to crops and wets a circular area.
  • Drip irrigation uses less water, as it only wets the plant roots in a highly controlled manner. The water uniformity is as high as 90%.
  1. Suitable Crops:
  • Sprinkler irrigation is most suited for a row, field, and tree crops.
  • Drip irrigation is most suited for vegetable and orchard plants, oilseeds, and cash crops.
  1. Water runoff and evaporation
  • Sprinkler irrigation wets more space and requires a good amount of water; the chances of water runoff and evaporation are high. Therefore, the average application rate must ideally be less than the soil’s infiltration rate.
  • Drip irrigation uses minimal water directly to the soil and therefore is less likely to be subjected to water runoff and evaporation.
  1. Suitable Slopes and Soil
  • Sprinkler irrigation is best suited for both uniform and undulating slopes. Ideally, the soil needs to have high infiltration rates and not form a crust fast.
  • Drip irrigation is best for crops planted along the contour lines of any farmable slope. The water supply pipe usually runs along the contour. It is suitable for all types of soils. For sandy soils, high water discharge rates improve water absorption.
  1. Water distribution
  • Sprinkler setup distributes water uniformly at the designated area quickly.
  • Drip setup may not distribute water properly, as it can provide only a controlled amount of water at a time.


Farming forms the heart of human livelihood. Watering is not much of an issue for places with adequate and uniform rainfall. However, with areas facing water storage or non-uniform rain, irrigation plays a crucial role in deciding the quality of crop yield. With technological advancements gaining the spotlight, irrigation systems evolve towards fully automatic systems.


The article highlights the differences between sprinkler and drip irrigation and endeavours to bring out the stark differences on common parameters. The purpose is to help you make the right choice of selecting a watering method that is best suited for your farming needs.


By Russell Crowe

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