Namibia: Higher Crop Yields With Drip Irrigation

Some farmers have received rains, and this is definitely a relief from a very long, dry and eventful year in all spheres.

While the maize prize remains unchanged as is other staple foods, there is a need to assess viable irrigation methods that are suited for the expected rainfall for the ongoing rainy season that is already late by almost a whole month.

Drip irrigation is a type of micro-irrigation system that has the potential to save water and nutrients by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either from above the soil surface or buried below the surface.

The goal is to place water directly into the root zone and minimise evaporation. Drip irrigation systems distribute water through a network of valves, pipes, tubing, and emitters. Depending on how well designed, installed, maintained, and operated it is, a drip irrigation system can be more efficient than other types of irrigation systems, such as surface irrigation or sprinkler irrigation.

Drip irrigation is the most effective method of irrigating crops such as corn with many benefits. Crops grow more uniformity with less water waste at plot edges and better irrigation efficiency is achieved which saves water and fertilisers. The lower operating pressure required saves on energy use and drip ultimately requires less labour to manage.

The secret of successful drip irrigation implementation lies in proper technical planning, constant soil and water tests and investing in the correct solution for a given crop. There are no shortcuts and there is a steep learning curve to managing a drip system, however, ensuring yields year in and year out with the least water usage possible will bring forth returns to the farmer in a sustainable manner.

The importance of this point cannot be overemphasised given the importance of constant planned yields to an economy.

Since drip is fed to the plant's roots, there is a reduction of foliar diseases and it can be used during all hours of the day as there is no wind influence that normally occurs with overhead sprayers. Higher yields of 10%-20% is are the norm for maize with drip irrigation when compared to other irrigation types, due to the uniformity and efficiency of the fertigation being applied where it is needed.

There are many different drip methods and types according to the type of crop and soil conditions, however, for corn a common drip line design of one lateral for two rows of crops are normally used.

Recommended dripper spacing and flow rates depend on the type of soil, the more sandy the soil is, the closer together the drippers are spaced and the more clay the soil contains, the further the spacing of the drippers. Most soil types fit for maize production fall into a 50cm-75cm dripper spacing and uses a dripper flow rate of 1-2,2 litres per hour.

Maize is a heavy consumer of nutrients and methods such as traditional dryland farming of adding fertigation once or twice during the season is not efficient. Sufficient fertiliser application will ensure the quality and quantity of the maize crop and fertiliser application should always be based on soil tests at the start and during the growing cycle.

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