Saving water: More crop per drop

A village in Maharashtra farms almost fully with drip irrigation.

Written by Harish Damodaran | Aurangabad | Updated: July 23, 2015 1:43 am
Maharashtra water issue, Maharashtra water scarcity, drip irrigation, drip irrigation Maharashtra, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, Krishi Sinchai Yojana, Indian farmer, save water, water issue, water scarcity, Maharashtra water, indian express Drip irrigation coverage extends to over 3,500 acres out of our total agricultural area of around 4,000 acres.

Jarandi gets barely 750 millimetres of annual rainfall, well below the national average of 1,175 mm. Yet, this village in Soegaon taluka of Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district has the unique distinction of almost its entire cultivable area being under drip irrigation.

That perhaps makes it a model worth looking at, just when the current government has launched the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana that aims at delivering water to every field (Har Khet Ko Pani) with a Rs 50,000 crore budget outlay over five years.

“Drip irrigation coverage extends to over 3,500 acres out of our total agricultural area of around 4,000 acres. That includes 3,000 acres under cotton and 500 acres under horticultural crops like banana, pomegranate, mosambi (sweet lime), haldi (turmeric) and ginger. Only the balance 500 acre area, where jowar, maize and other coarse grains are grown, is rainfed,” says Rajendra Patil, a 125-acre farmer of Jarandi.

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In drip irrigation, the water pumped out from a well is first sent through sand separators and media/screen filters to remove silt and impurities such as algae or dead plant matter. This filtered water is, then, applied to the crop via a network of mainline and sub-mainline pipes, valves (that turn on or off the water flow) and smaller diameter polytubes or ‘laterals’, which have pre-installed emitters at spaces corresponding with the placement of each plant. These ensure delivery of water directly to each plant’s root zone (where it is really required) and at discharge rates as low as one litre per hour. Drip irrigation systems also have provision for ‘fertigation’ — application of fertiliser, in liquefied form from a separate tank, along with the water.

Rajendra Patil at his farm pond. Rajendra Patil at his farm pond.

“Drip irrigation works well in cotton, where only one litre of water per plant per day (pppd) is needed for the first 40 days. Taking a plant population of 5,000 per acre, it comes to 5,000 litres or operating a 5-horsepower motor power for just 15 minutes daily,” notes VB Patil, senior manager (agronomy and agriculture extension) at Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd (JISL).

The irrigation requirement is higher in the subsequent stages of bud or square initiation (40-60 days: 2-3 litres pppd), flowering (60-90 days: 5-5.5 litres pppd), boll development (90-120 days: 7 litres pppd), maturation (120-150 days: 4-4.5 litres pppd) and boll bursting (150-170 days: 3 litres pppd). But even with 500 mm of monsoon rainfall, the entire 800-900 mm water need of cotton over 180 days can be comfortably met through drip irrigation.

“With drip, I can irrigate 10 acres using the same quantity of water that could previously cover hardly one acre through flood irrigation,” claims Rajendra Patil.

Small cotton farmer Madhukar Sonawane. Small cotton farmer Madhukar Sonawane.

Patil has 20 open wells and two farm ponds of 40x40x8.5 metres capacity each for harvesting rainwater in his 125 acres holding. In addition, he has a well four km away at Tingapur, housing a minor dam fed by streams from the nearby Ajanta hills. Patil and 29 other farmers, who have also sunk similar wells at the dam site, lift the water from there using 5-7 hp motors and convey it through pipelines to their respective fields.

“The pipeline water is required mainly during March to mid-June before the monsoon rains. For the rest of the year, I can make do with the water from the wells and ponds in my field using drip irrigation,” adds Patil.

Patil and his 29 fellow farmers — who together own 1,500 acres — are relatively rich though, compared to the bulk of Jarandi’s 750-odd families, who are either landless or cultivate much smaller plots. Like, for instance, Madhukar Shankar Sonawane, a two-acre Dalit cotton grower. But he, too, has an open well for giving water to his field through drip irrigation. Sonawane was able to invest in drip irrigation in 2011, partly because of a subsidy of Rs 12,000 per acre on a system otherwise costing Rs 35,000 and also good realisations on kapas (un-ginned raw cotton).

“Prices were then Rs 5,500-6,000 a quintal, as against Rs 3,900-4,000 now. I am managing only on account of not engaging any hired labour, reducing my production costs by Rs 10,000 to Rs 35,000 per acre. Also, my yields have risen thanks to drip irrigation,” he states.

Most farmers in Jarandi are harvesting 17-18 quintals of kapas per acre, due to drip irrigation allowing them to take a second ‘ratoon’, growing from the stubbles of the main crop and yielding 5-6 quintals from fresh pickings during January-April. This again wasn’t possible with flood irrigation, which could only assure water for the main crop whose yields were also lower at 7-8 quintals per acre. Drip irrigation, apart from saving water, contributes to higher yields. The reason for it is that the water (and fertiliser) is applied only at the plant’s root zone and remaining soil area gets enough air to maintain an optimum air-water-nutrient balance. But is the Jarandi model replicable?

Yes, believes JISL’s Patil: “You can build a 30x30x3 metre pond for every farmer at Rs 75,000 covering costs of excavation and plastic lining material to control seepage loss. This pond, on one-fifth of an acre, can accumulate 25 lakh litres of rainwater in the monsoon. Even after percolation and evaporation losses of 10 per cent each, the balance 20 lakh litres can fulfil the cropping requirement for 5 acres using drip irrigation till the next season. Alternatively, you could have a larger one-acre pond for 10 farmers with combined 25-30 acres holding.”

According to Bhavarlal Jain, chairman of the Rs 6,050-crore JISL — the world’s second largest micro-irrigation company after Israel’s Netafim — water harvested through building of check dams and ponds, extracted by bore/tube-wells, and delivered to crops using drip irrigation will cost five times more than that from large storage dams.

“But it is the only way to provide assured irrigation to every farm, more so when large dams take 15-20 years to build and entail huge land acquisition and community displacement costs. Ultimately, water has to be measured, metered, priced and managed along with proper crop planning, in order to cover more area and maximum number of farmers,” he points out.

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