dripping wet arid – Drip Irrigation Innovation.

Over the past twenty-years ‘micro’ irrigation systems have reached 10.3 million people. In various arid areas, water scarcity is a major issue for farmers to sustain an agricultural livelihood. Drip Irrigation provides a system that allows users to efficiently and precisely manage usage water to the demands of the particular demands of the crop. If this is not a prime example of social innovation, then I don’t know what else is! An elaboration of how drip irrigation works can be found here

National Geographic revealed that Dr. Daniel Hillel was named the 2012 World Food Prize Laureate. This simple innovation (although not new) allows farmers in arid areas to systematically and precisely monitor water usage. Most farmers or those who have been in the industry have an acute sense for weather patterns and climate trends. The option of monitor and regulate water flow to their crops will allow agricultural workers to sustain their small-meduim enterprises.

A Sound Social Investment.

This technology provides a long-term sustainable solution for farmers in arid conditions. Furthermore, large companies that invest in these technologies can create a new security asset class and capitalize on such social investments. The returns will undoubtedly be marginal as farmers may mostly be ‘just above’ the self-sustenance levels. Nonetheless, a sustainable return would be feasible.

A Win-Win Situation

On the one hand, investors can put their capital in the R&D in these social technologies (or the companies that sell them). On the other, farmers are able to better manage their water usage and maintain sustainable businesses. This means keeping input costs low and allowing for re-investment in capital.  These systems can be sold cheaply to farmers for a marginal profit. As I said before, returns are not the best investment option, but it is always going to be a zero-sum game isn’t it? We just need to know where priorities lie!

Scalability is a given in this instance. Based on the minimal input factors to make this system available and accessible to agricultural farmers, it would be mainly a matter of monitoring and maintenance of these technologies!

2 thoughts on “dripping wet arid – Drip Irrigation Innovation.

  1. The missing component is irrigation scheduling, particularly given the limited wetted volume. It is very important to challenge the majority who opt for the ET-method, which is only relevant in scheduling (or, irrigation frequency) with whole area wetting…consider the following:
    Irrigation designers use 5-yr or longer Average reference ET for determining how large pumps, mainlines, and emission devices should be to adequately meet crop water needs, with extra margins for losses, inefficiencies, salinity management, other beneficial water uses and system down-time for maintenance.
    The weather stations have several sensors that combine into a very complex algorithm to estimate reference ET under a strict environmental circumstance, but the sensors data includes various degrees of error. Transporting the calculated reference ET to another site compounds these multiple layers of error. The crop coefficients are generated by many universities for their common crops using weighing lysimeters. At these research sites, sure enough, with those particular assemblages of sensors, and the artificial nature of the lysimeter, a coefficient is developed that matches well with the weight of the water depleted by the crop over the crop growth stages.
    Transporting these results to your farm, given your varied soil profiles is very good in theory, but know that any error besetting you through these many gyrations is compounded over time. Chance is at play. Expect actual soil moisture, the integrated sum of 1st foot, 2nd foot, third ft, etc. to be plus or minus 10% reliable, as compared to real integrated soil moisture content by gravimetric analysis, or neutron probe scanning, between irrigation events.
    The early proponents (1980-83) of statewide weather stations for agricultural irrigation scheduling admonished adopters that periodic (commonly twice weekly) ground-truthing, multiple depths, using one of several means, was absolutely necessary. So some soil sampling for tweaking the calculated soil water balance is essential, not optional. This is rarely disclosed by the research station directors who lobbied for the weather station arrays across their state. It begs the question, “If we have to undertake direct soil moisture sampling and analysis to ground-truth the ET model, why not just use those direct measurements to schedule irrigation?”
    The obvious answer lies in the fact that the direct soil moisture monitoring would need to be deployed in a very rational and statistically tested / analyzed manner, and fit the uncertainty the producer was willing to bargain for. A statistical method does exist, and grid sampling, and soil analysis for EC and saturation percentage, performed on time, can reveal how dense must the direct soil measurement should be (how variable the management unit is).
    Fortunately for man-kind, outstanding sensors and data loggers can be positioned and then tended by a specialist, and with more adoption, rates per acre should decline. Of course there is aversion to wide-scale sensor deployment (motes) across our vast agricultural landscapes, especially if hardwires are involved. That does not make the ET-based irrigation scheduling approach more reliable.

    • Thank you very much Tom. That is a revealing insight and a great learning curve for me.
      Given poor statistical evidence or measurement, can soil monitoring be engineered for a scalability?
      Also, may I please ask, from a policy perspective, what do you recommend is a scalable solution to make this system more effective?