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Crop yield from drip irrigation
By Dr Adnan Younis & Dr M. Aslam Pervez

TO win acceptance in markets, the high-value crops such as fruits, vegetables and flowers must be of top quality. Quality depends on timely management decisions - especially crop production inputs. Water, in the form of precipitation or irrigation, is one of the most critical inputs.

Rainfall is unpredictable. Sufficient water supply is a pre-requisite. Controlling water supply is like controlling an essential production variable. Irrigation is the best available technique in meeting the crop’s water requirement in times of inadequate rainfall.

Drip irrigation is the process of applying the right amount of water slowly and evenly to roots. It is a slow delivery system in which water can be applied, drop by drop to the soil surface near the base of a plant.

A properly designed automatic system can remove much guessing about when to irrigate and how much water to apply. Water is applied whenever the sensor indicates a sub-optimum soil moisture level. This keeps the level of moisture within the optimum range for healthy growth and minimum stress.

Automatic Drip Irrigation is a valuable tool for accurate soil moisture control in highly specialized farming. Total automation of drip irrigation offers a simple, precise method for sensing soil moisture and applying water. Management time savings and the removal of human error in estimating and adjusting the levels enable skilled growers to maximise the net profits.

Drip irrigation pinpoints water placement and adjusts delivery rates to the changing needs of each plant. Fertilizers, using an inline injector, can be delivered in solution to root zones of the intended plants, increasing their response rate to feeding.

A drip system saves time. Timers can be installed to ensure that watering is done at the right time and in desired amount. Drip system saves more water than with conventional methods of watering. It lowers the bill. The payback period for lower water bills and the value of labour are usually for one season, or less.

Drip irrigation is a total crop support system which rewards the farmer with higher yields, lower costs, and the premium quality products. The slow, regular, uniform application of water and nutrients results in even growth and ripening with consistent quality. Drip irrigation, particularly when combined with mulching, helps break the cycle of too-wet-too-dry soils that stress plants and retard their growth.

By pinpointing water to individual plants, it remains unavailable to weeds. The most tedious part in farming is weeding which gets minimised. The application efficiency for irrigation systems is relatively high. This is not due to a good management but mainly due to the shortage of water in the most irrigated areas.

Drip and sprinkler irrigation methods have an application efficiency of 84 per cent and 73 per cent for both systems, respectively which are within the range of attainable efficiency. Low application efficiency for flooding irrigation (55 per cent) is due to high evaporation, seepage losses and unavoidable losses.

The return to water use for vegetable crops under plastic houses can be increased if the quantity applied achieved the ideal amounts. It is still higher than other agricultural pattern. This is related to substantial improvements in the levels of production technology such as planting improved crop varieties, using drip irrigation techniques and applying fertilisers and pesticides.

In Pakistan, there is a lack of extension services to work with farmers to improve the operation and maintenance of irrigation systems. Pressurised systems like drip irrigation require a much higher level of knowledge on the part of the farmer to achieve high efficiency. It is economic to convert from surface to drip irrigation system.

Although the cost of drip irrigation system is high in addition to the training costs of farmers but it remains much lower than the cost of water and the farmers can repay the loan with increased production.

Good water management is the most important alternative to increasing economic revenues, that is, increasing the production per each unit volume of the water applied for irrigation. In order to increase the irrigation water conveyance and distribution systems efficiency, the canal irrigation systems must be replaced with piped systems.

Using of minute irrigation technology which refer to low application rate of irrigation water. Such technologies allow the infiltration of all the irrigation water into the soil without runoff, even in heavy soils where infiltration capacity is extremely low: a very slow and continuous water movement down the soil profile is achieved.

At the same time, a favourable environment for root development is maintained with only minute fluctuations in soil moisture during the intervals between irrigations. Such conditions seem to be optimal for plant growth and may contribute to higher production and more efficient water use.

Courtesy: The DAWN
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