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Precision planning for precision irrigation


Supplied by Netafim South Africa

Precision irrigation requires an irrigation system that is designed and installed with all resources and production goals in mind, with the aim of ensuring optimal production.

Precision irrigation is to deliver the correct amount of food and water to the plant uniformly distributed at the correct time and in the right place considering the smallest differentiable irrigation unit according to the needs of the resources involved.

Variable decisions

“When you develop a new farming project or, for example, a new orchard or vineyard, a host of questions must be answered, and a team of experts must be involved in the process. Irrigation planning is but one aspect of this. Importantly, irrigation planning will be based on data from all of the other analysis done and decisions made throughout the planning process,” explains Chris Malan, agronomy manager at Netafim South Africa.

Chris emphasises that a long list of variables must be measured, considered and analysed. “This must be done by the farmer, crop expert, soil expert, meteorologist, fertiliser expert, irrigation expert and any other necessary expertise.”

The variables are:

  • Soil type (physical and chemical attributes).
  • Water composition and availability.
  • Availability of electricity.
  • Diseases and pests.
  • Based on these variables, decisions are made on:
  • Crops and/or cultivar.
  • Soil preparation actions.
  • Fertiliser requirements.
  • Row direction, block design, roads.
  • Plant spacing, row lengths, block sizes etc.

Now all that remains is deciding on the irrigation method, irrigation design and scheduling. Considering modern development with centralised control, decisions regarding block sizes are becoming the basis of water and nutrition management.

Farmers must rely on experts during the planning and preparation process.

“A properly designed and planned irrigation system that is managed correctly, will accommodate all of the variables mentioned above and will therefore ensure total control of water and nutrition levels.”

The perfect system

The final decision regarding the type of irrigation system you will use, will be determined by your experience and knowledge and prioritised irrigation goals.

After having considered the agronomic variables to decide on possible irrigation systems, the farmer has to consider another list of variables when choosing a system:

  • Capital and running costs of the system.
  • The farmer’s knowledge of and familiarity with the system.
  • The management and maintenance ease of the system and the team’s ability to        adhere.
  • The reliability of the system considering your circumstances.
  • The necessary capacity in terms of nutrition management and scheduling.
  • The occurrence of wind, weeds etc.
  • Installation requirements – especially in terms of labour and equipment.
  • Possibility of theft.

Chris reminds farmers of the importance of relying on experts during the planning and preparation process. Outside of what is discussed in this article, there are a host of other decisions to be made regarding filtration, fertigation equipment and more.

According to Chris, there is no one-size-fits-all solution in irrigation. That is why proper planning is so crucial. “There is no perfect irrigation system. You have to consider all of the advantages and disadvantages of a system and make a decision based on the circumstances of your farm, given all the variables.”