Generally, water is important for the survival of all living things, only the required quantities may vary. All plants require water for survival as it is an essential element that must be available for their growth and development. Averagely, the body mass of plants is made up of about 90 percent (90%) of water. On the other hand, the human body consists of about seventy percent (70%) of water.
The process of supplying crops with water using artificial channels is known as irrigation.
WHAT IS IRRIGATION?
Irrigation is the act of artificially providing water to soil through various systems of tubes, pumps, and sprays based on the requirement of the planted crops throughout the growing season to enhance the complete nourishment of the crop. Depending on the type of soil and the current planting season the frequency, amount, rate, and time of irrigation are usually different for different crops.
Before the advent of irrigation many years ago, many farmers had to wait for rain to begin before most farming activities could take place. In fact, the story is still the same even at this age, as many farmers still practice “rain-fed” farming because of the cost of setting up an irrigation system.
Although, irrigation is mostly done in areas where rainfall is irregular or when drought is expected. However, with the persistent issue of global warming which is causing change in climates all over the world, waiting for rainfall is no longer dependable, neither is it a profitable thing to do.
There are various sources of water that can be used to irrigate farmlands:
- Treated wastewater
- Desalinated water
- Dams, etc.
Briefly, let’s check out the different types of irrigation as well as the methods used for irrigation.
TYPES OF IRRIGATION
The different types of irrigation are differentiated depending on how the water is being distributed on the field. The most common types of irrigation are outlined below:
Here, gravity is utilized for the distribution of water over and across the farmland without the use of any mechanical pump.
Under this system, a network of pipes is used to distribute water under low pressure to each crop thereby saving a lot of water unlike surface irrigation.
This is a type of localized irrigation in which the drops of water are delivered at or near the root of crops. Runoff and evaporation of water is greatly minimized in this type of irrigation.
Here, overhead high-pressure sprinklers are used to distribute water from a central point on the field or from sprinklers on or attached to moving platforms like a tractor.
Center pivot irrigation
This type of irrigation features the distribution of water by a system of sprinklers that are attached to wheeled towers that move in a circular pattern. This type of irrigation is commonly used in flat areas.
Lateral move irrigation
This system of irrigation is less expensive than others, but it is more labour intensive. Here, water is distributed through a series of pipes, each with a wheel and a set of sprinklers, which are rotated either by hand or with a purpose-built mechanism.
Sub-irrigation system is often located at the bottom of the box or container in container gardening. During this process, water is supplied to the pipes buried underneath which is then made available to the roots and stems through capillary action. This system does not require much space in container gardening. On a field, setting this system up might be labour intensive.
Here, irrigation is done manually by the farmer who distributes water across the farm with watering cans. This system is very labor intensive and very cheap, also, there is non-uniformity in the water supplied on the field.
BENEFITS OF IRRIGATION
- A certain amount of water is required for crops to grow optimally. Insufficient rainfall creates this deficit in water requirement, it is this deficiency irrigation removes by providing water when there is no rain.
- Excluding manual irrigation, other irrigation systems helps to save water especially in areas where water scarcity is prevalent.
- Once water is available to aid plant growth, consequently and it improves the yield of crops.
- Irrigation makes it possible to grow some crops “bumper to bumper” which is ordinarily not possible under rainfed agriculture. This makes it possible for a country or region to be self-sufficient in food production.
- Alongside water, fertilizer inputs can also be supplied to crops in the right proportion, thereby saving time and labour. This method is known as “Fertigation”.
- Irrigation improves the groundwater storage as water lost due to seepage adds to the groundwater storage.
The benefits of irrigation are numerous and very important. Especially for developing countries like Nigeria, irrigation will go a long way in helping the country attain the level of self-sufficiency. If farmers stop practicing rainfed agriculture and are able to grow crops all year round, harvests will increase and the supply will exceed the demand. This way, the prices of food will fall and more crops will be stored or further passed down along the agricultural value-chain for processing.
Unfortunately, the factor that is greatly limiting the adoption of irrigation is the cost of setting it up. Most farmers lack access to funds that can be used to finance this system which has proven to be profitable over time. However, quite a number of improvisations have been done to beat down the costs.
For instance, in place of large tanks for reservoirs, a pit can be dug instead. The pit is coated with tarpaulin and filled with water. I have observed that most farmers use drip irrigation because of its low cost and ability to save water as well. The other necessity is the pump to take water from the reservoir to the plants through the pipes.
The benefits of setting up an irrigation system on your farm cannot be overemphasized. With the cheaper alternatives, it should become less expensive than what it seems like.
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