Are Smart Drip Irrigation Systems Smart Enough for Farmers?

Like many living organisms, water is essential for crop growth and production. One of the main ways to give water to crops in agriculture is through the process of irrigation. Irrigation is the process of providing water to the soil based on the water needs of a growing plant. The water required for irrigation can be obtained from different water resources. These often depend on the geographical location of the farm.     

Many agricultural lands use irrigation systems because the crops provide a higher yield. On average, agricultural land that utilizes an irrigation system produces twice as more than agricultural land that depends on rain for water. Since irrigation is pivotal for agriculture, an important thing we need to pay attention to is the quantity of water utilized for irrigation. This is because worldwide agriculture withdraws 70% of global freshwater for its production. With a growing population, we will need to produce more food, which would require more water. It is estimated that agricultural production will need to expand by 70% by 2050. 

So, for this article, let us look at some of the popular methods of irrigation systems that are currently available and understand what purpose they provide.   

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Types of Irrigation Systems

There are 3 major irrigation systems that are widely used today – Surface Irrigation, Sprinkler Irrigation, and Drip Irrigation.  

Surface Irrigation 

In this type of irrigation, water flows by gravity to the soil. The main source of water for this irrigation system is from tube wells, pipes, or small canals. There are two types of surface irrigation – Furrow Irrigation and Basin and Border Irrigation. Furrow irrigation is where the water flows through very small channels or furrows that are of 0.1 to 0.3m in width. Basin and Border irrigation are like furrow irrigation, with the only difference being that it takes much more time to level the field with water.  

Sprinkler Irrigation 

This system uses a mechanical device that sprays water in the air. The small water droplets formed from this system reach a great distance in the soil. There are two types of sprinkler irrigation – Set Sprinkler and Moving Sprinkler. The set sprinkler has a fixed setup and position to sprinkle the water. The moving sprinkler can be modified based on the requirement of the crop.  

Drip Irrigation 

In this system, water is applied at a very slow rate utilizing pressure. The water reaches directly to the root of the crop. This helps in minimal water wastage. A drip irrigation system allows 90% of the water to directly reach the plant, and it consists of water delivery pipes that vary in diameters. Different channels and subchannels are created according to the chosen pipe diameter. The pipe diameter is selected based on water pressure and crop type. Depending on the diameter of the pipe used, it may range from INR 30,000 to INR 60,000 per acre of land.  

Read: Drip Irrigation: Can Little Drops Of Water Be Our Friends? 

However, with all these irrigation systems, we are yet to talk about smart irrigation technology. With advancements in technology, people who are making smart irrigation systems have claimed that these new systems are a cost-efficient alternative for farmers. Let us investigate to see if this holds true.   

Smart Irrigation Systems 

Many companies are claiming that they have developed a sensor-based drip irrigation system. This smart irrigation system would help farmers in 3 key ways: 

  1. Water will only be released by the system based on soil moisture levels. This means water is not wasted unnecessarily.  
  2. Saves time for farmers. Farmers do not need to go into the field and check whether the soil is moisture enough or not.  
  3. Also, when crops get the right amount of water at the right time, they grow much more efficiently.  

Here is a block diagram that clearly illustrates how a component of the smart irrigation system works:  

Source: International Conference On Electronics And Communication System. Sahu and Behera, 2015, A Low-Cost Smart Irrigation Control System

Can Smart Irrigation Systems Work? 

Let us start with the cost. Normal drip irrigation systems cost between INR 30,000 to INR 60,000 per acre of land, depending on the diameter of the pipe used. However, installing these smart systems may cost an extra of 15 to 25 thousand. For a farmer who has less than 2 acres of land, this will be very difficult. Even drip irrigation is expensive for many farmers in India. An additional cost on top of drip irrigation may be asking too much from farmers.  

There is no doubt that this new technology helps farmers a lot. However, they need to be a lot cheaper if you want farmers to start adopting it. The cost needs to be either subsidized by the government or frugal innovation needs to be applied to make the technology cheaper.   

These systems can save tons of water if used appropriately. We can simultaneously help farmers get more yield and reduce the pressure of agriculture on our water bodies. Even though we have a long way to go before achieving this, we need many more innovations and inventions like these if we are going to achieve many of the sustainable development goals related to agriculture and water conservation. 

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