SDI systems have bright future in helping feed growing world population

John Vikupitz got an early start in the irrigation business, digging ditches and helping install watering systems in Southern California while in college.

So Vikupitz, now president and CEO of Netafim USA, may have a better idea than most about how crucial the role of the people on the ground has been in helping the company complete its first 50 years in business.

“We have a lot of partners we want to give credit to – we didn’t get here alone,” said Vikupitz, speaking at the 50th Anniversary press conference the company held at its exhibitor booth at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif.

“We have a lot of very strong farmer-collaborators who have helped us develop these products throughout the world, including the first use of sub-surface drip irrigation or SDI systems, and a lot of strong distributors here in the local markets and abroad who have helped us promote and sell our products.”

According to a video shown at the press conference, Simcha Blass, one of the founders of Netafim, saw a tree growing in the Negev Desert in Israel and discovered it was being watered by a leaking pipe. Blass partnered with Kibbutz Hatzerim in 1964 to create an irrigation company called Netafim that patented the first practical surface drip irrigation emitter.

“Many of the growers we credit with our success are right here in the Central Valley of California,” says Vikupitz. “There’s no stronger issue than the need to conserve resources whether it’s water or fertilizer, and we continue to work closely with local growers and institutions to maximize the potential for our products.

Working with growers

“For the past several years we have leveraged our agronomic expertise as an organization. It’s not just about producing drip irrigation components; it’s about teaching growers how to use them most effectively and how to maximize yields by using the least amount of water, the least amount of fertilizer, using the resources you have most efficiently.”

Looking at the next 50 years, Vikupitz said the company sees drip irrigation continuing to grow as a water-saving technology. Throughout the world currently, about 6 percent of the land is under drip irrigation at most.

“We see tremendous potential of broad-acre crops like cotton, corn, soybeans and alfalfa,” he said. “But we also see technology such as advanced watering solutions become more popular with growers, and we see this as the next big step in agriculture.

“This is sort of a bold statement, but we think flood irrigation will become a thing of the past throughout most of the world in the next 50 years. It’s simply not a sustainable practice. We have too many people entering the word, too many hungry mouths to feed and not enough clean water to drink. We’re undergoing a transformative time here where the convergence of environment, technology and culture are forcing change, and we intend to lead that change.”

Vikupitz says Netafim is working “hand-in-hand” with companies throughout the world to develop new technology. “But the fundamental key to our success is collaboration with growers and distributors to make sure the systems are usable in the field.”

One of the new systems Netafim is launching in 2015 is a high-performance, flexible manifold system.

Entry-level system

“Basically, what we’re trying to do is offer growers a low-cost, entry-level system they can utilize without making a substantial investment,” he said. “They can lay this product out, irrigate a field with it and not have the extensive investment they would have with a SDI (sub-surface drip irrigation).

Netafim is also launching a unique adaptation to the traditional center pivot system, he noted. “We have a product that actually attaches to the drops on a center pivot, and a grower is able to drag a drip system with the center pivot as a way to conserve water and increase yields.”

For more information on Netafim, visit


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