Water your crops efficiently using drip irrigation

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Drip irrigation is a climate smart irrigation system that delivers water directly to the plant roots.

In most parts of Kenya, irrigation remains a necessity in crop production. Even with the rainfall, some crops still need irrigation especially in the arid and semi-arid regions.

Intense heat and dry climatic conditions can be a big challenge for proper crop growth and development. As much as irrigation is crucial, using too much water can cause problems such as leaching nutrients, reduced root growth, water-logging, salt build up on the root zone as well as reduction of plant quality and yield.

The one type of irrigation that has managed to save farmers money and increased their yields is drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is a type of irrigation which saves on water by slowly delivering the water to the root zone of the plants. So to ensure that you have proper plant growth and high yields, one can install a drip irrigation system.

Benefits of a drip irrigation System

A drip irrigation system is better than other irrigation systems such as sprinkler irrigation for numerous reasons.

• Drip irrigation is the most efficient method of irrigating because the emitter delivers water directly to the plants minimizing wastage. Drip irrigation systems use 30 to 50 percent less water than conventional watering methods, including most sprinklers.

• A proper irrigation system supplies small but constant quantities of water, which creates ideal growing conditions for most plants. More efficient watering means less weed growth. The plants maximize water use since the water is delivered at the base of the plants. This leads to improved seed germination, increased crop yields and fewer weeds since there is only little water available for them.

• Since water is applied locally, leaching is reduced, fertilizer or nutrient loss minimized. This means that fertilizers can be used with high efficiency, reducing waste.

• Operation costs are reduced.

• Soil infiltration capacity is increased.

• Fertilizers and ground water is not mixed.

Limitations of drip irrigation

• Initial investment capital is mostly higher than other systems such as sprinkler irrigation.

• Management requirements of drip irrigation systems are higher because of its sensitive layout.

• Rodent, human and insects are potential sources of leaks.

• A water filtration is necessary to prevent your drip lines from blocking

Cost of a drip irrigation system

According to an irrigation expert, Mr. Bramwel Mullamah, the quantity of drip pipes needed per acre depends on the type of crop to be planted but the ideal one is 400m/ha. Spacing is usually done at 60cm interval but also varies with the type of crops. It’s advisable to have a tank that can hold at least 5,000 litres to ensure there is enough water for irrigation. For French beans, watering is done for 45minutes to 1 hour intervals three times a day. Fertigation (fertilizer application through drip lines) is also encouraged when one is doing drip irrigation.

Irrigation in sloping land

Irrigation on a slope can be a big challenge since most of the water ends up on the lower side, leaving little or no water on the upper part. To solve this problem, one needs to lay out the main pipe followed by gate valves at intervals. Intervals between valves depend on the slope and the water pressure. Mr. Mullamah also points out that another common challenge in drip irrigation systems is blockage of drip emitters which occurs from time to time. He added that this blockage is mainly due to soil particles when farmers fail to filter the irrigation water or salts in cases where no coagulants are used.

Choose drip equipment carefully

Farmers need to be careful when purchasing drippers to ensure that they get good quality drippers. There are two kinds of materials used for drippers: rubber and plastic. The prices of plastic drippers normally range from KSh 12 - KSh 15 per metre while the rubber ones go for KSh 25 to KSh 30 per metre. The rubber drippers are better compared to plastic ones because they can withstand varying climatic conditions and can be used for up to 5 years.

Drip irrigation maintenance tips

For a drip irrigation system to work well, the farmer needs to take care of the system at all times to ensure the plants are well-irrigated. The following maintenance tips can help farmers to keep the system working well:

• Use clean water at all times.

• Be careful while working in farm with a drip system to avoid damaging the water pipes, hoses and drip pipes.

• Inspect the system on a regular basis so as to detect any destruction from pests such as termites, rodents, blocked emitters and leaks that cause water loss.

• Ensure the filters are cleaned regularly.

• Make sure the system is well-stored when not in use to stop damage.

• Use mulch (dry material like grass) between the plants to reduce water loss through evaporation and reduce the growth of weeds.

Irrigation expert: Bramwel Mullamah - +254 0711 997 426

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