Drip Irrigation: More Crop per Drop

Published Date: 22 March 2010

Explaining the drip irrigation technique. The drip irrigation set-up at IAEA's Seibersdorf Laboratories. Drip irrigation is a technique by which the water is targeted at the rooting zone of plants. Farmers also apply fertilizers using the system (the process is called fertigation). The technique helps conserve water, reduce labour, and improve crop, soil and water quality. Water flow is controlled and the tubings allow only a specific amount of water to flow out at a specific time. The precision allows efficient utilization of water and reduces water lost due to evaporation from soil surface and runoff or downward movement beyond plant roots. The drip irrigation set-up for banana plants in a greenhouse at IAEA’s Seibersdorf Laboratories. The scientists working at IAEA use nuclear science to check parameters like the amount of water in the soil and amount of water absorbed by plants. The experiments allow the scientists to determine exactly how much water a particular kind of crop requires, what is the best time of the day to water a field, and how much water needs to be provided. Long Nguyen, Head of the Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition Section. Nguyen has been working in soil and water management for decades. According to Nguyen drip irrigation is one of the best ways to achieve the more crop per drop endeavour. He says that the drip set-up need not be expensive and farmers in developing countries can use simple equipment and set up drip irrigation. Lee Heng, soil scientist at the IAEA’s Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition Section. Lee Heng takes the drip technology out to the farmers. She says she has seen a great reduction in the use of manual labour for irrigation in countries like Mali, Kenya, Algeria and Libya. Michel Warnau, programme officer of IAEA’s Technical Cooperation, Africa project. Warnau has been working with farmers in Africa and says that drip technology has enabled farmers to grow better quality crops and even cultivate high-value crops. Jose Luis Arrillaga, senior laboratory technician at IAEA's Seibersdorf Laboratories, demonstrates how the neutron probe works. A neutron probe uses nuclear science to determine the amount of water content in the soil. It contains a source that emits fast-moving neutrons. When these fast-moving neutrons come in contact with water molecules in the soil they slow down. The probe can then detect the slow neutrons; the higher the number of slow neutrons, the greater the water content. Water samples in the laboratory where the water’s specific isotopic make-up is determined. Waters from different sources have different isotopic make-up. This knowledge can then be applied to the fields where scientists can determine how much of the water provided to the plants is being absorbed by the plants, how much is being lost to evaporation, and how much as run-off into surrounding water bodies. Collecting the water samples from the soil for testing in the laboratory. Joseph Adu-Gyamfi and Lee Heng in an experimental field site at IAEA's Seibersdorf Laboratories. Also in the picture is a weather station which is powered by a solar panel and is connected to soil moisture sensors that can be used as the neutron probe to determine the soil water content. Counterparts in Member States that are using drip irrigation are provided with this equipment.