The advantages of drip irrigation are:
- Fertilizer and nutrient loss is minimized due to a localized application and reduced leaching.
- Water application efficiency is high if managed correctly.
- Field leveling is not necessary.
- Fields with irregular shapes are easily accommodated.
- Recycled non-potable water can be safely used.
- Moisture within the root zone can be maintained at field capacity.
- Soil type plays a less important role in the frequency of irrigation.
- Soil erosion is lessened.
- Weed growth is lessened.
- Water distribution is highly uniform, controlled by the output of each nozzle.
- Labour cost is less than other irrigation methods.
- Variation in supply can be regulated by regulating the valves and drippers.
- Fertigation can easily be included with minimal waste of fertilizers.
- Foliage remains dry, reducing the risk of disease.
- Usually operated at lower pressure than other types of pressurized irrigation, reducing energy costs.
The disadvantages of drip irrigation are:
- Initial cost can be more than overhead systems.
- The sun can affect the tubes used for drip irrigation, shortening their lifespan. (See Polymer degradation);
- The risks of degrading plastic affecting the soil content and food crops. With many types of plastic, when the sun degrades the plastic, causing it to become brittle, the estrogenic chemicals (that is, chemicals replicating female hormones) which would cause the plastic to retain flexibility have been released into the surrounding environment.
- If the water is not properly filtered and the equipment not properly maintained, it can result in clogging or bioclogging.
- For subsurface drip the irrigator cannot see the water that is applied. This may lead to the farmer either applying too much water (low efficiency) or an insufficient amount of water, this is particularly common for those with less experience with drip irrigation.
- Drip irrigation might be unsatisfactory if herbicides or top dressed fertilizers need sprinkler irrigation for activation.
- Drip tape causes extra cleanup costs after harvest. Users need to plan for drip tape winding, disposal, recycling or reuse.
- Waste of water, time and harvest, if not installed properly. These systems require careful study of all the relevant factors like land topography, soil, water, crop and agro-climatic conditions, and suitability of drip irrigation system and its components.
- In lighter soils subsurface drip may be unable to wet the soil surface for germination. Requires careful consideration of the installation depth.
- Most drip systems are designed for high efficiency, meaning little or no leaching fraction. Without sufficient leaching, salts applied with the irrigation water may build up in the root zone, usually at the edge of the wetting pattern. On the other hand, drip irrigation avoids the high capillary potential of traditional surface-applied irrigation, which can draw salt deposits up from deposits below.
- The PVC pipes often suffer from rodent damage, requiring replacement of the entire tube and increasing expenses.
- Drip irrigation systems cannot be used for damage control by night frosts (like in the case of sprinkler irrigation systems)