Saturday, March 3, 2012

Irrigating rice-based crops: The low-cost way



The farming circle has probably reached the tipping point where the word “irrigation” is almost synonymous to pulling off wads of cash. Not in anyone’s wildest imagination could it be equated to being low cost.

But then, that is probably why we need to imagine further. Irrigation can be low cost as the PhilRice researchers based in Batac, Ilocos Norte would prove.

With the rather dry environment, water is indeed a scarce resource in Batac. Rain comes almost only in June to November—hardly enough to irrigate the crops planted in the province. Hence, the challenge is to do more with literally “less.”

Engr. Noel Ganotisi, Engr. Romel Batuac, and Dr. Reynaldo Castro are developing the low cost drip irrigation system (LDIS) for rice-based high value crops such as bitter gourd. The ultimate aim is to meet the water requirements of the crops despite water issues.

The team first had an experiment in the station, which ran for 6 months, from January to June 2010 on a 250 sqm plot of bitter gourd. The experiment endeavoured to use locally available materials so anyone could replicate the technology.

“Except for the dripper, all materials are available in Batac,” Ganotisi said.

The LDIS used plastic drum, control valves, filter, mainline and manifold, and lateral lines (moldex hose).

Ganotisi likewise highlighted that LDIS only required about PhP 30,000, 53 to 72% lower than the commercial irrigation dripping system for 1,000 sqm plot!

When it comes to performance, the LDIS also showed impressive results. Ganotisi and his team reported 55% of saved water using LDIS – an amount enough to irrigate other crops, something that could have just been wasted if conventional furrow irrigation was used.

Application efficiency of LDIS also showed favorable results. Application efficiency is the percentage ratio between the volume of water beneficially used by the crop and the volume of water delivered to the area. In simpler terms, it speaks of how efficiently the water was used.

“It’s indeed very efficient. This can be explained by the fact that water was applied “at the root zone of the bitter gourd,” Ganotisi said. This way, less water is applied “unlike in furrow irrigation where wider area is irrigated since more water is needed to run in furrows. Even those spaces that do not need to be wetted are irrigated when using furrow method”.

Consequently, the team reported that LDIS-irrigated bitter gourd produced slightly higher marketable fruits (78.62%) than those irrigated using conventional furrow irrigation (77.02%). Additionally, a return on investment of 85% over a one year period was reported.



Trying it out on field

After the station testing, the team started the on-site trial in Currimao, Ilocos Norte. While still months away from harvest, the farmer-cooperator could already enumerate a couple of advantages in using LDIS.

“This is user-friendly for women and for aging farmers. Once the containers are filled, I only need to turn on and off the drippers and all’s done! I can now focus on my other tasks,” said Agnes Asuncion, 51. Agnes is into making soaps, something she learned from a DOST training.

Eduardo Asuncion, 67, Agnes’s husband, said that setting up was likewise easy. He said that he could follow what Engr. Ganotisi and his team taught him.

During the interview, the couple added that the technology is apt for upland and rainfed areas. They also attested that the conventional method of irrigating their crops was laborious.

“The conventional method was a bit tedious, and aging farmers will certainly have issues with it,” Agnes said.

At a time when the challenge is to make do with scarce resources, innovations as this should be encouraged. What’s more, this is an inexpensive innovation that farmers can very well replicate in their own farm— another manifestation of the favourite mantra of innovators: the more brains you use, the lesser money you will need.

The paper won the third best paper award during the 61st PSAE Annual National Convention and 9th International Agricultural Engineering Conference and Exhibition in Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte on April 25-29, 2011.

DA-PhilRice is a government-owned and –controlled corporation that aims at developing high-yielding, cost-reducing, and environment-friendly technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.

For more information, please visit or contact DA-PhilRice at Maligaya, Science City of Muñoz, Nueva Ecija with telephone number (044) 456-0285 loc 511/512 or any PhilRice station near you. You may also visit their website at www.philrice.gov.ph or text your questions to 0920-911-1398. (Jaime A. Manalo IV)