Improvement of agricultural water management by implementing more efficient irrigation methods is essential for sustainable use of water and soil resources. The main objective was to assess and compare the use of parametric evaluation (PM) and multi-criteria assessment (MCA) in the decision and planning process of irrigation management by land suitability assessment of three irrigation techniques. Land and soil properties were determined and assessed, and suitability maps were produced for surface, sprinkler and drip irrigation methods in the carsamba Delta plain (Black Sea region, Turkey; 972.2 ha). MCA was more flexible and sensitive due to the analytical hierarchy process and thus better reflected real conditions, than the widely used PM. In both approaches, drip irrigation was the most suitable. The main restricting factors in all irrigation systems in this area were slope, soil depth and soil texture. Results demonstrated that the arability of 33% (PM) or 30% (MCA) of the study area would be improved by employing drip irrigation instead of surface or sprinkler irrigation. Maps show where the change of traditional surface irrigation system should start. Such a change would be projected into better water use efficiency and more efficient use of soil while reducing degradation processes, namely soil erosion. (c) 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.