Irrigation inefficiency could mean 40% yield losses - FreshFruitPortal.com

Wear on irrigation can make farms 40% less efficient

As farmers know, when operating under drought conditions it's important that appropriate measures are taken to maximize yields. Producers should therefore always have an effective irrigation system that allows for, at the very least, a base-level of technical standards to ensure that their crops survive.

In Chile, this is especially important as the country has experienced ten years of drought. Since 2010, rainfall has decreased by about 30% between the Coquimbo northern and southern La Araucanía regions. This is a big challenge for the country's agricultural industry.

One way to cope with the water shortage is by using technology that helps farmers become more efficient in creating irrigation systems.

Olivos - a Chilean company that specializes in the development of tech solutions for irrigation - told FreshFruitPortal.com about new developments that could advance the agriculture industry in its efforts to confront the crisis.

It says that the most critical challenge is inefficiency. A big problem the company identified is that "currently when you come to monitor a field, there are inefficiencies in irrigation systems ranging from 10% to 40%, either by higher or lower nominal flow".

These inefficiencies come from wear on the irrigation equipment over time. This could be a result of the poor quality of the irrigation system in general or a lack of maintenance.

"This means that a producer may be making an irrigation time decision based on measurements that are external to the system itself - such as evapotranspiration or culture coefficients (Kc). But in practice, if your team is watering, for example, 20% more water than it should be, according to the irrigation design, it means that it's incorporating 20% more water that will likely not even be used productively for the plant," explained Olivos.

"Along with the physical problems that come with over-irrigation, that is where the loss of water through infiltration is created. This is a recurring situation and especially common with old irrigation equipment," the company emphasized.

New integrated systems to identify risk and water levels

As concerns emerge and the industry changes its approach to water scarcity, a new and important development is that irrigation operators and designers are now trained to identify faults through more strict measurements.

This allows farmers to solve failures or challenges more quickly. “That is where, as an irrigation company, we are also making sure that we make new training programs to offer to workers who operate the irrigation systems", Olivos said.

"That way, by combining methods that take into consideration climate, plant and soil measurements, the producers can have an integrated management of irrigation."

Beyond just creating a system, how Olivos sees the future in its irrigation solutions

The company went on to emphasize that while it is dedicated to manufacturing reliable irrigation technology, it is also focusing efforts on what happens with the systems after installation. That involves measuring certain parameters to assure the grower that there is no water loss from malfunction or design.

"Once the customer has resolved this problem, they can safely focus on defining their irrigation strategies, making them more efficient," explained Olivos.

Speaking to the specifics of its technology, the company explained the basics that farmers should use to make more efficient use of water. The use of a water meter that is connected to the internet, for example, provides the system the ability to quickly identify failures. Real-time applied irrigation through time-sensitive, internet-capable meters is crucial.

It also stressed the importance of climate monitoring tools - through weather stations - to determine what to expect from the crop during that period. Another critical tool is soil moisture sensors, an effective step to increase productivity and monitor water over time.

"The technologies that are currently available are flexible and modular, allowing them to adapt to the needs of each producer," detailed Olivos.

Providing further insights into how to confront the water crisis, Olivos will be a part of the Agricultural Water Summit 2020. The event is the first of its kind that will address such issues of water security on Sept. 22 in San Francisco de Mostazal.

The event will bring together companies and actors across different countries that are dealing with droughts. By focusing on solutions, innovation and technology, the event will approach how to improve water management, preservation, and conservation.

Olivos said: "It is tremendously important for there to be events like this to show, discuss and analyze other realities" in agriculture.

"We must learn to live together through this to continue to produce in a sustainable way, and this can only be achieved when all industry actors - producers, suppliers, government entities, etc. - are involved in spaces like the Agricultural Water Summit."

If you are interested in knowing more about water scarcity, irrigation and how drought impacts diverse regions of the world, we encourage you to attend the Agricultural Water Summit 2020. The event will bring together industry experts from around the world to collaborate on solutions, innovation and technology to promote sustainable farming and water preservation efforts. For more information, please visit www.agwatersummit.com.