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More Crop Per Drop: Using Simple Drip Irrigation Systems for Small-scale Vegetable Production


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Preface By producing vegetables year-round, small-scale growers can increase their incomes and enhance the diets of their families and communities. Vegetable crops respond well to irrigation, which helps to improve yield and quality, and increases the efficiency of other inputs. Simple, low-cost drip irrigation systems can ensure small-scale producers benefit from water resources. This 10-chapter manual provides basic, step-by-step procedures for installing simple drip irrigation systems for different crops, climates, and soils. It addresses common problems, provides troubleshooting and maintenance tips, and offers irrigation scheduling guidelines to avoid under- or over-irrigation. Methods to determine soil types, water quality, water-holding capacity, crop coefficient, and crop water demand are illustrated. The information presented in this guide has been compiled from relevant literature, research and development projects, and is based on practical field experience. This manual is intended as a guide for small-scale vegetable producers, and as a reference for extension agents to use in training and demonstrations. Agricultural input suppliers in rural and peri-urban areas may also find it a useful resource to support and promote drip irrigation.
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More Crop Per Drop
Using Simple Drip
Irrigation Systems for
Small-scale Vegetable
Manuel Palada, Surya Bhattarai,
Deng-lin Wu, Michael Roberts,
Madhusudan Bhattarai, Ros Kimsan,
David Midmore
Suggested citation
Palada M, Bhattarai S, Wu DL, Roberts M, Bhattarai M, Kimsan R, Midmore D. 2011.
More Crop Per Drop: Using Simple Drip Irrigation Systems for Small-scale Vegetable
Production. AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center, Shanhua, Taiwan. AVRDC
Publication No. 09-729. 83 p.
AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center
P.O. Box 42
Shanhua, Tainan 74199
Tel: +886 6 583 7801
Fax: +886 6 583 0009
AVRDC Publication: 09-729
ISBN 92-9058-176-X
Editor: Maureen Mecozzi
Cover design: Chen Ming-che
Publishing Team: Kathy Chen, Chen Ming-che, Vanna Liu, Lu Shiu-luan
© 2011 AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center
Printed in Taiwan
AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center is an international nonpro t research institute
committed to alleviating poverty and malnutrition in the developing world through the
increased production and consumption of nutritious, health-promoting vegetables.
Project Partners
Central Queensland University
International Development Enterprises
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
To view a copy of this license, visit or send a
letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, CA, 94105, USA.
Photos and illustrations courtesy of IDE India, IDE Cambodia, NSW DPI
– Australia, Surya Bhattarai, Madhusudan Bhattarai, Manuel Palada,
Brent Rowell, A. Susila, Deng-lin Wu, Eric Simone, R. Stizaker
More Crop Per Drop
Using Simple Drip Irrigation Systems
for Small-scale Vegetable Production
Manuel Palada, Surya Bhattarai, Deng-lin Wu, Michael
Roberts, Madhusudan Bhattarai, Ros Kimsan, David Midmore
Chapter 1: Introduction to Drip Irrigation 6
Chapter 2: Simple Drip Irrigation Systems 14
Chapter 3: Installation of a Simple Drip Irrigation System 22
Chapter 4: Drip Irrigation Scheduling 38
Chapter 5: Determining Soil Texture 44
Chapter 6: Determining Soil Water Status 50
Chapter 7: Estimating Crop Water Use 60
Chapter 8: Irrigation Water Quality 70
Chapter 9: Irrigation System Assessment 74
Chapter 10: Socioeconomic Evaluation of Small-scale Drip Irrigation 76
References 81
By producing vegetables year-round, small-scale growers can
increase their incomes and enhance the diets of their families
and communities. Vegetable crops respond well to irrigation,
which helps to improve yield and quality, and increases the
efciency of other inputs.
Simple, low-cost drip irrigation systems can ensure small-
scale producers benet from water resources. This 10-chapter
manual provides basic, step-by-step procedures for installing
simple drip irrigation systems for different crops, climates, and
soils. It addresses common problems, provides troubleshooting
and maintenance tips, and offers irrigation scheduling
guidelines to avoid under- or over-irrigation. Methods to
determine soil types, water quality, water-holding capacity,
crop coefcient, and crop water demand are illustrated. The
information presented in this guide has been compiled from
relevant literature, research and development projects, and
is based on practical eld experience.
This manual is intended as a guide for small-scale vegetable
producers, and as a reference for extension agents to use in
training and demonstrations. Agricultural input suppliers in
rural and peri-urban areas may also nd it a useful resource to
support and promote drip irrigation.
Introduction to Drip Irrigation
What is drip irrigation?
Drip irrigation, which is also known as trickle irrigation
or microirrigation, is an irrigation method that allows a
grower to control the application of water and fertilizer by
allowing water to drip slowly near the plant roots through a
network of valves, pipes, tubing, and emitters (Fig. 1). For
many crops, switching from a conventional ood/furrow
or sprinkler system to drip irrigation can reduce water use
by 50 percent or more. Crop yields can increase through
improved water and fertilizer management under drip
irrigation. When drip irrigation is used with plastic mulch
and raised beds, farmers can increase yield and improve
the quality of vegetable crops. The combined use of drip
irrigation, plastic mulch, and raised beds is known as
Drip irrigation is not applicable to all farms. However, when
properly managed, it can reduce labor and production
costs while improving productivity. Small-scale growers
should evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of drip
irrigation to determine the benets for their farms.
Advantages of drip irrigation
• Less water can be used. Drip irrigation
requires less than half of the water for ood or
furrow irrigation and less than three-quarters of
the water for sprinkler irrigation.
• Lower operating pressure means reduced
energy costs for pumping.
• Water use efciency is increased because plants
can be supplied with water in precise amounts.
• Disease pressure may be less because plant
leaves remain dry.
• Water is applied directly to the plant root zone.
No applications are made between rows or other
non-productive areas, resulting in better weed
control and signicant water savings.
• Field practices such as harvesting can continue
during irrigation because areas between rows
remain dry.
• Fertilizers can be applied efciently through the
drip system.
• Irrigation can be done under a wide range of eld
• Compared to sprinkler irrigation, soil erosion and
nutrient leaching can be reduced.
Disadvantages of drip irrigation
• Higher initial investment compared to other
irrigation methods.
• Requires regular maintenance and high-quality
water. If emitters are clogged or the tape damaged,
the tape must be replaced.
• The water application pattern must match the
planting pattern. If emitters are not properly
spaced, root development maybe restricted and
plants may die.
• Drip tubes may be lifted by wind or displaced by
animals unless covered with mulch, fastened with
wire anchor pins, or lightly covered with soil.
• Drip lines can be easily cut or damaged by other
farming operations, such as tilling, transplanting,
or manual weeding with a hoe. Damage to drip tape
caused by insects, rodents, or birds may create
large leaks that also require repair.
• Water  ltration is necessary to prevent clogging
of the small emitter holes.
• Compared to sprinkler irrigation, water
distribution in the soil is restricted.
• Drip-tape disposal causes extra cleanup costs
after harvest. Planning is needed for drip-tape
disposal, recycling, or reuse.
A typical drip irrigation system has seven major components:
Components of a drip irrigation system
Figure 1. Layout of a typical drip irrigation system
Figure 2. Irrigation water sources: (l) river canal and (r) pond.
Delivery system
The delivery system of any drip irrigation system (Fig. 3)
consists of:
• mainline
• sub-main (also called a header)
• feeder tubes or connectors
• drip lines (tubes or tape)
The role of the delivery or distribution system is to convey
the water from the source to the eld. Delivery systems may
be above ground (easily movable) or underground (less likely
to be damaged). Pipes are most commonly made of PVC or
polyethylene plastics. The size and shape of the distribution
system may vary from eld to eld and from farm to farm.
• The mainline delivers water from the source
(pump, ltration system, etc.) to the sub-mainline.
The mainline is made of hard plastic and is joined
to the sub-mainline by a T-connector.
• The sub-main delivers water to the drip tubes or
drip tapes through feeder tubes or connectors. The
sub-mainline is made of durable polyethylene pipe
or hose.
• Feeder tubes or connectors connect each drip
tube or tape to the sub-mainline. Feeder tubes are
made of plastic and can be inserted directly into
the sub-mainline and the drip tube or tape.
• Drip lines can be made from tubes or tape. Drip
tubing has an inner and outer chamber to allow for
even water distribution over a range of conditions.
Most tubing is polyethylene black plastic, 4 to 8
mm thickness, with holes (emitters) at intervals of
20-60 cm. Drip tape is a low-cost alternative to drip
Water source
The water for irrigation can come from wells, streams, ponds,
tanks, rain, recycled water from wastewater treatment plants
or other sources. (Fig. 2)
Feeder tube
Drip line Drip line
Tape connector
Figure 3. Components of a drip irrigation delivery system: (a) sub-main
connected to tape drip lines by feeder tube and connector; (b) emitter
connected to tube drip line (c) sub-mainline, connector, tape drip line.
Figure 5. (a) Screen lter unit and main valve;
(b) 155-mesh screen lter; (c) disc lter
Many types of connectors can be used to join mainlines, sub-
mains, drip tubes, and drip tape (Fig. 4).
Filters are essential to the operation of a drip system. Screen
lters or disc lters are used for well and municipal water.
Filters remove dirt and solid particles from irrigation water
that can clog the drip system (Fig. 5).
Figure 4. Various types of drip connectors.
Pressure regulator
Pressure regulators are installed in-line with the system
to regulate water pressure at a given water ow (Fig. 6).
Regulators help prevent surges in water pressure that could
damage the system components.
Valves or gauges
A zone system using valves to open and close various lines
can be used to water several elds or sections of elds from
one water source (Fig. 7). A backow/anti-siphon valve is
a necessity for a system using a well or municipal source if
fertilizers or chemicals are to be injected into the line. Hand-
operated gate or ball valves or electric solenoid valves can be
used to automate the system using a time clock, water need
sensor, or automatic controller box.
Figure 6. Pressure regulators installed side-by-side
allow a greater ow rate.
Figure 7. A xed pressure gauge.
Controllers allow the user to monitor how the drip irrigation
system performs (Fig. 9). These controls help ensure the
desired amount of water is applied to the crop throughout the
growing season. Controllers include pressure regulators, water
meters, pressure gauges, timers, and soil moisture measuring
Figure 9. (l) Water meter installed near the eld; (r) water
meter and timer to control ow of irrigation water.
Injectors allow the application of air, fertilizer, chemicals,
and maintenance products into the irrigation system (Fig. 8).
It is necessary to use an anti-siphoning device (also called a
backow-prevention device) when fertilizer, chemicals, or any
other products are injected into a drip irrigation system. This
device ensures water always moves from the water source to
the eld; it prevents chemicals or fertilizers from polluting the
water source.
Figure 8. Fertilizer injector with tank (l) and
bucket (r) containers.
Simple Drip Irrigation Systems
Some simple drip irrigation systems
International Development Enterprises (IDE) has developed
simple, affordable low-cost drip irrigation systems for
smallholder vegetable growers. These systems include:
• Bucket Kit
• Family Nutrition Kit
• Drum Kit
• Customized System
• Combo Kit
IDE also offers simple, low-cost water pumps to use with the
drip irrigation kits. These include several types of wooden and
metal treadle pumps.
Bucket Kit (Fig. 10)
• A pre-assembled kit to irrigate vegetables in
home gardens.
• Has a 20-liter bucket with one or two rows
of lateral drip lines 5 to 10 meters in length,
depending on the space available.
• Can irrigate up to 20 square meters.
• Bucket can be hung from a tree or pole 1 meter
high. Figure 10. A simple bucket kit for irrigating a small vegetable garden plot
of approximately 20 square meters.
Family Nutrition Kit (Fig. 11)
• A variant of the bucket kit, it replaces the bucket
with a low-cost 20-liter double- layer plastic bag.
• Has a 20-liter water storage unit, screen lter,
on/off valve, sub-main pipe, and four rows of KB
drip lateral drip line 5 meters in length with 44
20-cm long microtube emitters.
• Can irrigate an area of 20 m2. Expandable up to
40 m2.
• Provides irrigation for 44 to 88 vegetable plants,
depending on the crop and spacing.
Figure 11. Family Nutrition Kit for home gardens. The water bucket
is replaced by a 20-liter double plastic bag.
Drum Kit (Fig. 12)
• A pre-assembled
kit useful for semi-
commercial vegetable
• The drum kit comprises
a 200-liter water storage
drum, barrel, tank, or
similar container placed
at an average height of 1
meter to allow the water
to ow by gravity. The
drum requires a minimum
planted area of 100 m2.
• Has ve or more
rows of lateral drip
lines 10 to 20 meters
long, depending on crop
spacing and shape of the
The irrigated area can be expanded
up to 1000 m2 by using a larger drum
placed at an average height of 1 to
1.5 m. Figure 12. A drum kit with drip for semi-commercial vegetable production.
KB Drip (Fig. 13)
A new innovation in low-cost drip irrigation
Krishak Bandu (KB) or “Farmer’s Friend” uses lay-at lateral
drip lines with a wall thickness of only 0.125-0.25 mm,
which expand to 16-mm in diameter when lled with water.
Microtubes are used as emitters to provide uniform water
application. The cost in India is around US $600 per ha for
closely spaced crops. The inlet pressure head for the KB Drip
system can range from 0.5 to 3 meters. KB Drip kits of various
sizes are described in Table 1. KB Drip is popular due to its
lower cost, small package sizes, ability to operate at very low
pressure, ease of installation and use, and uniformity of water
• KB Drip systems can be customized to suit the
needs of the farmer, crops, and eld shape.
• Typically meant for larger areas of 1000 m2 and
• By procuring different components of the KB Drip
system, the kit can be installed using simple rules
of thumb.
• For smallholding up to two hectares, farmers
can easily plan and lay the system in the eld with
some support from local tters.
Customized systems
KB Drip kits can be customized to meet the specic needs of
farmers, different crops, and elds of various shapes and sizes.
Figure 13. KB low-cost lay-at drip irrigation system adjustable to different
plot and eld sizes.
KB Drip Kit
(EDK 20)
KB Drip Kit
(EDK 100)
KB Drip Kit
(EDK 500)
KB Drip Kit
(EDK 1000)
Area Coverage 20 m2 100 m2 500 m2 1000 m2
Microtubes 60 300 1500 3000
Number and Length of Lateral Drip Lines
4 lines
5.0-m long
10 lines
10-m long
40 lines 12.5 m long to each side
of the sub-main
40 lines
25m long to each side of the sub-main
Sub-main Outer Diameter and Length
16-mm OD
3 m
16-mm OD
9 m
32-mm OD
20 m
50-mm OD
20 m
Screen Filter Size 12 mm inlet & outlet 16 mm inlet & outlet 25 mm inlet & outlet 32 mm inlet & outlet
Operating Head (Height of Tank) 1 meter 1 meter 2 meter 2 meter
Emitter Flow 2.5 liters/hour 2.2 liters/hour 2.4 liters/hour 2.2 liters/hour
Water Storage 20 liters 200 liters 1000 liters 2000 liters
Price (US$)** 3 12 38 60
Crops Vegetable crops: Tomato, Eggplant, Onion, Cabbage, Rapeseed, Paprika, Cauliower, Garlic, Watermelon, Cucumber, Lettuce, etc.
The larger systems can be used for short-duration fruit crops such as banana and papaya with a few modications.
Table 1. Specications for various sizes of KB Drip Kits*
*Basic specications: Microtube emitters 0.3 m long, 1.2 mm inner diameter; emitter spacing 0.30 m intervals; KB Drip tape laterals of Linear Low Denisty Polyethylene (LLDPE) material; row spacing at 1 m intervals along LLDPE
**Prices ex-factory.
Source: IDE-India
Combo Kit: Components (Figs. 14-15)
Rope pump: The pump capacity of a hand rope pump is
2.4 m3 per hour (10 m depth well), enough to irrigate 2000
tomato plants. The water outlet of the multipurpose model
is high, so a water tank can be lled directly.
Cement tank: Instead of a metal drum a cement tank may
be used with the advantages of lower cost per liter, longer-
lasting material (no corrosion), and larger volume (500 to 5000
liters). The tank can be constructed with local materials and
skills, and also can be used for sh production. An 800-liter
cement tank consists of: 100 bricks, 1 kg of steel wire, 2 bags of
cement, and 6 bags of sand. The tank is round and reinforced
with steel wire on the outside of the bricks. A simple lter
is included in the tank; by using
PVC caps, no valves are needed.
The height of 1 meter is enough
for drip irrigation to function.
Costs: Depending on the local
situation, the costs for a basic
irrigation set is US$ 70 to 140
including a rope pump (for wells
1 to 40 m deep), cement tank
(800 liters), and drip system (for
120 m2, 520 tomato plants). The
irrigated area can be expanded
to 0.5 ha depending on well
depth, number of plants, and
duration of irrigation.
Figure 14. A combo kit consisting of cement tank, rope pump, and
irrigation set up for semi-commercial production.
Figure 15. Drawing water from well with a manually
operated rope pump.
Treadle Pump (Fig. 16)
The treadle pump (commonly known as a pedal pump) is a
water-lifting device similar in principle to the hand pump. A
hand pump consists of a single barrel or cylinder, which one
has to pump with one’s hands; the treadle pump has two
cylinders, and the operator can step on the pedals to lift water.
One person—a man, woman, or even a child—can operate the
pump by pressing on two foot pedals or while holding on to a
bamboo or wooden frame for support. IDE India has developed
four models of the pump designed for distinct soil, water, and
income conditions:
• 3.5-inch pump (metal barrels) with bamboo
• 3.5-inch pump (metal barrels) with metal
• 5-inch pump (metal barrels) with metal treadles
• 5-inch concrete pump (PVC barrels) with wooden
3.5-inch treadle pumps, bamboo or metal treadles
• 3.5-inch diameter barrel.
• Pump weighs approximately 14 kg.
• Ideal for lifting water from water table depth
ranging from 4.5 to 6 meters (maximum lift 8 m).
• Water output is approximately 0.8 to 1.25 liters
per second.
• The lifted water can be stored in the tank for
drip irrigation or can be applied to plots in furrow
Figure 16. A low-cost pump with bamboo treadle that can be used
for furrow irrigation or to ll the tank for drip irrigation.
Installation of a Simple Drip Irrigation System
Installing a simple drip irrigation system
The Horticulture Easy Drip (HED) kit is a simple drip irrigation
system designed for small-scale vegetable production in
developing countries where water resources are scarce, water
control systems are poor, and access to irrigation water is
The HED kit allows the user to assemble all parts needed
to make an irrigation system (Table 2). All of the irrigation
accessories are readily available and affordable. The kit may
be adapted for 5, 10, 15 or more rows of vegetables, depending
on the size of vegetable plot. The size of the water tank, and
the length and number of laterals will depend on plot size, but
in this chapter HED for 100 m2 is used as an example.
This irrigation system does not require an electrical power
supply, as the system works by gravity. When a 100-liter
bucket or tank of water is raised 1.5 meters above the ground
(measured from the bucket bottom) sufcient pressure is
generated to force the water from the bucket through the
irrigation tape on the ground.
Tubes are connected through the bottom or the side of the
bucket or tank to the irrigation tape. Water drips from the
tape into the soil and provides enough moisture for a vegetable
garden to feed a family of three to four.
Table 2: Components of HED kit (IDE India, 2007)
Item Count Description Picture
HED set 12
The set contains all
ttings except the drum
and the base.
Thin cloth
piece 1
Cotton, 1 m x 1 m.
To use as lter from the
source to the drum.
Tap and
checknuts 3 pieces
1 male-threaded
adapter in the tap.
2 rubber washers
1 female-threaded
check nut
Filter screen
set 1
Black PVC with inlet
strainer lter screen and
Follow the arrow for the
direction of the ow.
16 mm 12
These connect sub-
main section and sub-
mains to laterals.
End caps 2
These end caps at-
tached at the distal end
of sub-main.
Stops water ow at the
end of the drip line.
Poly tube roll 1 16 mm for the sub-main.
Easy drip
tape roll 102 m
This at tape used as
laterals does not have
slits. It will be connected
to sub-mains.
Microtube 25
cm long 315 m
Microtubes have an
orice of 0.5 mm for
the discharge of water.
These are inserted
through the at tape at
the appropriate spacing
for the crop.
thumb 3
These sharp-ended
punches are used to
make holes to insert
microtubes into the at
16 mm 11
Sleeves are end caps
for all at laterals. They
can be removed while
ushing the system.
16 mm 1
To re-join the at or sub-
main in case there is a
Component Assembly (Figs. 17-20)
Figure 18. Laying sub-main lines with later-
als on raised beds.
Figure 20.
out drip
lines with
Figure 19. Inserting
microtube (emitter)
to lateral line (drip
Figure 17. Steps in
connecting lateral
pipe (tube) to sub-
main line (tube)
Step 1: Location and site selection
• At least 6-8 hours of full sun a day
• Away from large trees
• As level as possible — at slope
• Use a fence to keep out animals
• Plot size: 20 m long x 10 m wide
Installing a drip kit
Step 2: Prepare the land by loosening the soil; mix in sufcient
Step 4: Prepare a platform or wooden stand 1 m high at the center of
one side of the plot and x the drum on the platform or wooden stand.
Step 3: Fix the tap on the drum and tighten it with checknut and
gaskets by rotating checknut from inside (Do not rotate the tap from
Step 7: Cut 25 cm piece of 16 mm polytube and connect it back to the
lter. Connect 16 mm tee to the other end of 25 cm piece.
Step 5: Take 16 mm polytube coil, cut 1.5 meter piece and connect it to
the tap.
Step 6: Connect the lter to the other end of the 1.5 m piece on the
Step 8: Cut 1 meter of 16 mm polytube and connect it to 16 mm tee. Similarly con-
nect all other 16 mm Tees (total of 10 pieces) at 1 meter spacing.
Step 9: Connect the end cap at end of the 16 mm polytube after last 16 mm tee.
Step 10: Take easy drip tape roll and connect one end to 16 mm Tee with
the help of 16 mm polytube sleeve. (Pass the tape through the sleeve, con-
nect it to the tee and put the sleeve over it).
Step 11: Lay easy tape on the ground and cut at 10 m length. Similarly con-
nect all 10 laterals to 16 mm tees.
Step 12: Cut 3 cm piece of easy tape, fold the end of easy tape and insert 3
cm piece to close the end. Repeat the procedure for all 10 easy tape later-
Step 13: Put the cloth on the tank and ll it with water. Open the tap and ll
all the easy tape laterals with water.
Punch hole in the easy tape
laterals at 30 cm spacing with
the help of thumb punch.
Step 14: Now the system is installed and ready to use.
Troubleshooting, repair and maintenance
Clogging reduces or stops water from dripping through the
tape. To avoid clogging, open the end caps and ush out the
particles once a week (Fig 21). The dirt in the piping can be
sucked out or blown out easily when dry. Regular cleaning of
the lter and double ltering of water before pouring into the
drum minimizes clogging (Fig. 22).
Figure 21. Open end caps to
ush out particles that clog the
Figure 22. Removing lter cap to allow cleaning particles
from inner mesh. 
Repairing leaks in drip lines
Holes in drip tape can be plugged with a small piece of tubing
that has been heated with a match or torch and crimped with
pliers (Fig. 23). Enlarge the hole with a nail before inserting
A round piece of wood also works; it swells when wet and
makes a tight t.
To repair drip tape, cut away damaged area and connect the
two pieces with a 16 mm joiner provided in the bag.
End-of-Season Maintenance
With care, the drip kit should last 5 to 7 years. At the end of
each season:
• Remove sleeves from the far ends of the drip
• Pour water in bucket to ush out tape and
replace sleeves.
• Store the bucket so that it will not be damaged
by rodents.
• Remove stopper from adapter and rinse lter
screen if bucket takes longer than usual to empty.
Do not remove screen from stopper or rub screen
with ngers.
• Leave drip tapes in place, but place a stone over
the end of each tape to prevent from blowing away.
• Protect the tapes from animals.
Figure 23. Heated tubing (a) crimped with pliers (b) and inserted or
plugged in drip tape hole (c)
Drip Irrigation Scheduling
Drip irrigation scheduling
Irrigation scheduling is the decision of when and how much water
should be applied to vegetable crops in a eld. The purpose
of irrigation scheduling is to determine the exact amount of
water to apply to the eld and the time for application thereby
maximizing irrigation efciencies. Irrigation scheduling saves
water and energy.
Irrigation criteria and scheduling
Irrigation criteria are the indicators used to determine the
need for irrigation (Broner, 1993). The most common irrigation
criteria are soil moisture content and soil moisture tension.
The less common types are irrigation scheduling to maximize
yield and irrigation scheduling to maximize economic (net)
return. The nal decision depends on the irrigation criterion,
strategy and goal. Farmers need to dene a goal and establish
an irrigation criterion and strategy.
To illustrate irrigation scheduling, consider a farmer whose goal
is to maximize yield. Soil moisture content is the irrigation
criterion. Different levels of soil moisture trigger irrigation.
For example, when soil water content drops below 70 percent
of the total available soil moisture, irrigation should start. Soil
moisture content to trigger irrigation depends on the farmer’s
goal and strategy. In this case, the goal is to maximize yield.
Therefore, the farmer will try to keep the soil moisture
content above the critical level. If soil moisture levels fall
below this level, the yield may be lower than the maximum
potential yield. Thus, irrigation is applied whenever the soil
water content level reaches the critical level.
If the farmer’s goal is to maximize net return, an economic
irrigation criterion is needed, such as net return. This is
the income from the crop less the expenses associated with
irrigation. Irrigation scheduling enables the farmer to apply
the exact amount of water to achieve the goal. This increases
irrigation efciency without knowing how much was applied.
Also, water distribution across the eld is important to
derive the maximum benets from irrigation scheduling and
management. Accurate water application prevents over- or
under-irrigation. Over-irrigation wastes water, energy and
labor; leaches expensive nutrients below the root zone, out
of reach of plants; and reduces soil aeration, and crop yields.
Under-irrigation stresses the plant through constraints in water
availability and causes yield reduction.
Advantages of irrigation scheduling
• Can rotate water among various elds to minimize
crop water stress and maximize yields.
• Reduces cost of water and labor through less
irrigation, making maximum use of soil moisture
• Lowers fertilizer costs by holding surface runoff and
deep percolation (leaching) to a minimum.
• Increases net returns by increasing crop yield and
• Minimizes waterlogging, reduces drainage
• Assists in controlling root zone salinity problems.
• Results in additional returns: “saved” water can be
used on noncash crops that otherwise would not be
irrigated during water-short periods.
Irrigation Scheduling Methods
Irrigation scheduling methods consist of an irrigation criterion
that triggers irrigation and an irrigation strategy that
determines how much water to apply. Irrigation scheduling
methods differ by the irrigation criterion or by the method
used to estimate or measure this criterion. A common and
widely used irrigation criterion is soil moisture status.
Method Measured
Criterion Advantages Disadvantages
Hand feel and
appearance of soil.
Soil moisture content
by feel Hand probe. Soil moisture
Easy to use; simple; can improve
accuracy with experience.
Low accuracies; eld work involved to
take samples.
Gravimetric soil
moisture sample.
Soil moisture content
by taking samples.
Auger, caps,
Soil moisture
content. High accuracy Labor intensive including eld work; time
gap between sampling and results.
Tensiometers. Soil moisture tension.
including vacuum
Soil moisture
Good accuracy; instantaneous
reading of soil moisture tension
Labor to read; needs maintenance;
ineffective at tensions above 0.7 atm.
resistance blocks.
Electric resistance of
soil moisture.
blocks, AC bridge
Soil moisture
Instantaneous reading; works over
larger range of tensions; can be
used for remote reading.
Affected by soil salinity; not sensitive at
low tensions; needs some maintenance
and eld reading.
Water budget
Climatic parameters:
temperature, radiation,
wind, humidity and
expected rainfall,
depending on model
used to predict ET.
Weather station
or available
of moisture
No eld work required; exible;
can forecast irrigation needs in the
future; with same equipment can
schedule many elds.
Needs calibration and periodic
adjustments, since it is only an estimate;
calculations cumbersome without
atmometer. Reference ET. Atmometer
Estimate of
Easy to use. direct reading of
reference ET. Needs calibration; it is only an estimation.
Table 3. Methods of irrigation scheduling (Broner, 1993).
Table 3 compares the different methods of irrigation scheduling
by monitoring soil moisture content or tension. The methods
described in the table measure or estimate the irrigation
Measuring soil moisture
There are different tools for the measurement of soil
moisture based on soil moisture tension. The most common
are tensiometers (Fig. 24-26). Although tensiometer moisture
readings are accurate, they are quite expensive and complex
for small farmers to operate. A much simpler tool for soil
moisture measurement has been developed for practical use
in the eld. The Fullstop Wetting Front Detector (FSWD) is
simple, accurate, and affordable for small-scale growers. It
does not require wires, batteries, computer and loggers unlike
most other soil moisture sensors.
The FSWD shows how deep the water has penetrated into the
soil after irrigation. It also stores a sample of water from the
soil so that fertilizer and salt levels can be monitored. It can
be used to nd out if irrigation water is too little or too much,
assist in management of fertilizer and salts and detection of
waterlogging. The wetting front detector shows how deep the
wetting front has moved in the soil. The FSWD is buried in the
soil and pops up an indicator ag when a wetting front reaches
it. With drip irrigation it is possible to see the wetting front
on the surface. A wet patch develops immediately under the
emitter or dripper. Digging the soil away under two dripper
reveals two columns of wet soil.
Wetting front detectors are usually used in pairs. The rst is
buried about 1/3 of the way down the active root-zone. The
second is buried about 2/3 of the depth of the active
root zone (max depth of soil aimed to wet by irrigation).
Figure 26 illustrates underwatering, adequate watering and
overwatering scenarios on drip-irrigated crops. A tensiometer
reading scale is shown in Table 4.
Tensiometer Readings
Centibars Soil Moisture Status
1-10 saturation
10-20 eld capacity
20-30 optimum (start drip irrigation)
30-60 start other types of irrigation
>70 stress range
Table 4. Tensionmeter readings (Goodwin, 2009)
A. If indicator of the shallow detector rarely pops
up, then water is not moving deep enough to ll most
of the root zone. More water should be applied.
B. The indicator of the shallow detector should pop
up regularly after irrigation. The deeper detector
should respond during periods of high demand for
C. If the indicators of both the shallow and deep
detectors regularly pop up then water could be
wasted. Apply less water or lengthen the period
between irrigations.
Figure 24. Fullstop Wetting Front Detector showing soil moisture status.
A. Too little water
Figure 25. Soil moisture tensiometer: (a) in pairs at two depths, (b) installation on raised bed, (c) placement near the root zone.
B. About right C. Too much water
(a) (b) (c)
Figure 26. Soil tensiometer placement in hot pepper drip irrigation eld trial plot (a) and Fullstop Wetting Front Detector
on drip irrigated tomato crop (b).
(a) (b)
Determining Soil Texture
Field determination of soil texture
Determination of soil texture is important in irrigation since
water holding capacity of the soil depends on soil texture.
Sandy soils generally have lower water holding capacity than
clay soils. Therefore, irrigation water requirement of crops
grown in sandy soils is higher than those grown in clay soils.
Soil texture can be determined using two methods: 1) soil
particle separation by suspension and 2) hand feel method.
Clean water Pour soil,
shake 1-2
Settle for 1 minute,
put a mark for sand
Settle for an
hour, put a mark
for loam layer
Settle for a day,
put a mark for
clay layer
Sandy Soil Loam Soil Clay Soil
0-10% Clay
0-10% Silt
50-100% Sand
10-30% Clay
30-50% Silt
25-50% Sand
5-100% Clay
0-45% Silt
0-45% Sand
Particle separation by suspension
Fig. 27 shows the separation of soil particle in suspension bottle
to determine the amount of sand, loam and clay particles. Soil
sample is placed in a container with clean water. The container
is shaken for 1-2 minutes. After 1 minute, the sand particles
will settle down while the loam particles settle down after one
hour. Clay particles nally settle down after one day. Determine
the soil texture using the soil texture triangle (Fig. 28). Read
the depth of sand, silt and clay after settlement in the bottle,
work out the percentage of these three components, and nd
out the soil texture class by triangulating the formation in the
soil texture triangle.
Figure 27. Field soil texturing method with suspension bottle. (Globe, 2005)
Figure 28. Soil texture triangle. (NSW DPI, 2008a)
Soil texture determination by hand
An alternative method for determining soil texture is by the
feel method. Figure 29 shows the steps involved. How the
soil feels in the hand and the length of ribbon formed will
determine roughly the clay content (%) and the texture, as
indicated in Table 5.
Collect sample Sieve and prepare
Add water in handful
Knead, make ball. No
ball formation = sand
Make soil ribbon,
measure length to
know texture
Figure 29. Steps in determining soil texture using the feel method. (NSW DPI, 2008a)
Soil texture Ribbon length How the soil feels Clay
Sand (S) Nil No ball forms. Can’t be molded, sand grains adhere to ngers <5
Loamy sand (LS) 5 mm Slight coherence, sand grains of medium size can be sheared between thumbs and fore
nger 5-10
Clayey sand (CS) 5-15 mm Slight coherence, sticky when wet, sand grains sticks to ngers, discolor ngers, little or
no organic matter 5-10
Sandy loam (SL) 15-25 mm Coherent ball but very sandy to touch, dominant sand grains are of medium size and
readily visible 10-20
Light sandy clay loam 20-25 mm Coherent ball sand to the touch, dominant sand grains are of medium size and readily
visible 15-20
Loam (L) About 25 mm Forms a thick ribbon, pliable ball, smooth spongy and no obvious sandiness. Greasy to
touch if organic matter is present -
Sandy clay loam (SCL) 25-44 mm Strongly coherent ball, sandy to touch, medium sand grains visible in a ner matrix 20-30
Clay loam (CL) 40-50 mm Strongly coherent and plastic ball, smooth to manipulate 30-35
Sandy clay (SC) 50-75 mm Plastic ball, sand grains can be seen and felt 35-40
Light clay (LC) 50-75 mm Plastic, smooth feel easily worked, molded and rolled in to rod. Rod forms a ring without
cracking 35-40
Medium clay (MC) >75 mm Smooth plastic ball, can be molded into rod without cracking, resistance to shearing 45-55
Heavy clay (HC) >75 Smooth, very plastic ball, rm resistance to shearing, mold into rods, stiff plasticine. Very
sticky and strongly coherent. Rod forms a ring without cracks. >50
Table 5. Key to soil texture by feel (NSW DPI, 2008a)
Determining Soil Water Status
Determining soil water status
Soil water status
Soil moisture level determines the timing of irrigation. Soil
moisture status can range from dry to saturated (Fig. 30).
Maintaining soil moisture at eld capacity during the critical
growth period is important for vegetable production.
Rell point
The water content of the soil below which the plant exhibits
some form of stress, and a drop in yield, it is not constant
down the soil prole, and the advent of stress might be
identied by a drop in daily use water and roots extracting
water at greater depth.
Permanent wilting point
Soil water content when plants have extracted much water
and wilt, but will recover if rewatered.
Unavailable water
Soil water content that is strongly attached to soil
particles and aggregates, and cannot be
extracted by plants. Exemplied by water content
less than permanent wilting point, i.e. when
plants have extracted all of the water they can
and do not recover if rewatered.
Terms describing soil water content
Water held in the soil is described by the term water content,
quantied gravimetric (g water/g soil) and volumetric (ml
water/ml soil) basis. Terms to describe water content and
illustrated in Figure 31 are:
Gravitational water
Water (amount) held by soil between saturation and eld
Terms describing soil moisture status:
All pores in the soil are lled with water, soil water content =
% porosity.
Field capacity
Soil water content after free drainage (24-48 hrs) of
saturated soil.
Figure 30. Soil moisture status and relative crop growth. (Ramsey, 2007)
Water holding capacity:
Water (amount) held between eld capacity and wilting point.
Plant available water
Portion of the water holding capacity that can be used by
plant. As general rule, plant available water is 50% of the water
holding capacity. From eld capacity to the stress point it is
easy to get the water. From the stress point to the permanent
wilting point plants nd it much harder to draw water from the
soil and their growth is stunted. Below the permanent wilting
point no further water can be removed and the plant dies.
Figure 31. Soil water holding characteristics and terms. (Luke, 2006)
Total available water content (TAWC)
Readily available water (RAW)
The amount of water crop roots can utilize per cm of soil
depth, which greatly varies according to the texture of the soil
(Table 6). Water available to a crop depends on rooting depth
and soil texture; soils differ in their ability to hold water, and
water that can be extracted by plant roots. RAW in the root
zone of a crop (mm) is the cumulative total of the depth in cm
of each soil layer multiplied by the appropriate RAW value for
the soil texture of that layer (Table 7).
The amount calculated represents water holding capacity of
soil in the crops root zone, that is, the amount of irrigation
water (mm) that it takes to ll the soil prole.
To schedule irrigation, one should know how much water a soil
can hold that is available to the crop. The soil surrounding a
plant’s roots store the water it needs to live, grow and produce
a crop. This water is held by the soil with increasing strength
as the soil dried out. Rell point is the point at which the
plant has used all water that is readily available. Beyond rell
point, as the soil dries out the plant needs to work a lot harder
to extract water, placing stress on the crop. The difference
between eld capacity (FC) and rell point (RP) is called RAW.
RAW is water stored in the soil that is easily extracted by the
plant. Unless trying to stress the crop, irrigation should aim
to maintain RAW at all times. The amount of RAW available to
crop will vary with soil type, crop rooting depth and irrigation
Steps in identifying readily available water
Step 1: Dig a hole: Dig a hole within the root zone of your crop.
Step 2: Identify the effective root zone (area where the main mass of roots is found).
Step 3: Identify different soil layers (measure depth, and calculate thickness of each layer).
Step 4: Identify percentage of gravel/stone in each layer (use a 2 mm sieve, and visually estimate %).
Step 5: Identify soil texture(s)
Step 6: Calculate RAW
Step 6.1: Identify the depth of the effective root zone.
Step 6.2: Identify the depth of different soil layers within the effective root zone.
Step 6.3: Determine the soil texture and % stone/gravel of each layer.
Step 6.4: Select the crop water tension group (Table 6) and identify the RAW value
for each soil texture/layer (mm/100 mm).
Step 6.5: Reduce the RAW gure(s) by % stone/gravel in the soil.
Step 6.6: Multiply the thickness of each soil layer by its adjusted RAW value.
Step 6.7: Add up the RAW for each soil layer to obtain the total root zone RAW.
Water Tension* To -20 kPa To -40 kPa To -60 kPa To -100 kPa To -150 kPa
Soft crops such as
vegetables and some
tropical fruits.
Most fruit crops and table
grapes. Most tropical
Lucerne, most pasture,
grapes*; crops such as
maize and soybeaans.
Annual pastures and hardy
crops such as cotton,
sorghum and winter
Available Water (AW) is
the total water available in
the soil.
Soil texture Readily Available Water (RAW) (mm/m) AW (mm/m)
Sand 35 35 35 40 60
Sandy loam 45 60 65 70 115
Loam 50 70 85 90 150
Clay loam 30 55 65 80 150
Light clay 25 45 55 70 150
Medium to heavy clay 25 45 55 65 140
Tension is 0 kPa at saturation point. The gures are only approximate.
*Except when partial rootzone drying is being practiced on wine grapes, should be irrigated before -60 kPa is reached.
Table 6. RAW and Available Water (AW) values for different soil textures (Ramsey, 2007)
Table 7: Calculating rootzone RAW: Example 1 (Ramsey,
White Radish (Daikon) is growing in 0.3 m of sandy loam on top
of 0.5 m of light clay. For a soil pit at this site the calculations
would be:
the soil
the soil
texture of
each layer
Identify the
texture RAW for
each soil layer
and crop.
Daikon (Table 6,
column B)
Multiply the
thickness of each
soil layer by its
texture RAW.
Add up the
RAW for
each layer.
Add up the
RAW in the
0 to 0.3 m
= 0.3 m
60 mm/m 0.3m X 60 mm/m
= 18 mm
18 mm 18
0.3 to 0.8 m
= 0.5 m
Light clay 45 mm/m 0.5 m X 45 mm/m
= 22.5 mm
22.5 mm 22.5
0.8 to 1.2 m
= 0.4 m
45 mm/m 0.4 m X 45 mm/m
= 18 mm
18 mm
= 58.5 mm = 40.5 mm
The effective rootzone RAW for this example is 40.5 mm
Calculating liters of water held in the crop root zone
The volume of root zone wet by the drip system will depend on
the size and shape of the wetting pattern.
Overlapping drippers
Where the drip patterns overlap it can be assumed that a
wetted strip or “sausage” shaped wetted pattern is produced.
In this case, the volume of water held in the soil can be
estimated from the width and length of the wetted strip and
the root zone Readily Available Water (RAW).
Volume stored (L) = wetted width (m) x wetted length (m) x
root zone RAW (mm)
For example: for a 1.5 m wetted width, 3 m crop spacing
and root zone RAW of 14 mm, the volume of readily available
water = 1.5 x 3 x 14 = 63 Liters RAW per plant. Note: If the root
zone of your crop does not have access to entire wetted strip
you need to adjust the dimensions of the wetted area in your
calculation. This is particularly important in young plantings
where roots may have access to only a small portion of the
wetted strip.
Non-overlapping drippers
Where wetting patterns do not overlap, it is necessary to
calculate the wetted volume assuming a cylinder, sphere or
cone shaped wetting pattern. For example, if a root zone
with a RAW of 14 mm is wetted by a dripper with a cylindrical
wetting pattern and a radius of 0.2 m the volume of readily
available water will be:
Calculation of RAW: Example 2
A citrus crop growing in a sandy loam soil containing 20% stone,
with an effective root depth of 0.3 m and a strategy to irrigate
at - 40 kPa would have the following calculation:
From table of the RAW for sandy loam at - 40 kPa = 60 mm/m.
As the soil contains 20% stone we must reduce the RAW by 20%.
To reduce RAW by 20%, multiply by 0.8.
Adjusted RAW = 60 mm/m x 0.8 = 48 mm/m.
Hence, for a rooting depth of 0.3m, total Root zone RAW =
48mm/m x 0.3 m = 14.4mm.
If irrigating with a drip or micro spray system that does not wet
the entire cropped area, then convert RAW mm to RAW liters.
Converting RAW (mm) to liters for drip systems
1 mm depth of water = 1 L applied to 1 m2
Where irrigation water and plant roots are evenly distributed
over the whole planting area, water storage and plant water
use can be measured in mm. Where drip irrigation is used,
the irrigation water and roots are only distributed in a smaller
area in the eld.
In these cases, it is often easier to use liters to describe both
the water use and water storage in the plant root zone. This
also allows simple calculation of irrigation time as the discharge
from drip systems is commonly reported in liters/hour.
πr2 x root zone RAW (mm)
(πr2 is the area of a circle where pi (π) is equal to 3.14)
3.14 x (0.2 x 0.2) x 14 = 1.8 L/plant (Radius 0.2 m).
If there is more than one dripper per plant multiply this by the
number of drippers to get the total litres of RAW available to
each plant.
Calculating hours of irrigation
Irrigation time can be determined from the volume of water
that can be held in the root zone wetted area and the discharge
rate of the drippers.
Irrigation time (hours) = Volume RAW (L) ÷ dripper discharge
rate (L/hour)
Example 1: Overlapping drippers with a RAW of 63 liters per
tree, 2 L/hr drippers spaced 0.5 meters apart. Each plant has
access to the full 3 m wetted length between plants.
3 m wetted length ÷ 0.5 m dripper spacing = 6 drippers per
plant. 6 drippers per plant x 2 L/hr drippers = 12 L/hr/ plant.
63 L/RAW/plant ÷ 12 L/hr/plant = 5 hours and 15 minutes
irrigation time.
Example 2: Non-overlapping drippers with a RAW of 1.8 liters
per dripper and 8 L/hr drippers. 1.8 L/RAW/dripper ÷ 8 L/hr
=0.225 hours = 13.5 minutes (multiply time in hours by 60 to
determine number of minutes)
Note: Using RAW to determine irrigation time will give the
maximum time needed to irrigate to rell the RAW. If the
soil dries out beyond the moisture content that is considered
readily available to the crop then it will need to irrigate for a
longer period.
Measuring dripper discharge
Although manufacturers normally specify the output of
the drippers it is best to check the actual discharge as your
system may be operating at a different pressure or affected
by blockages and wear. Discharge can be checked by digging
a hole under the dripper and using a container to measure
the volume emitted over a known period. Randomly check
drippers across the irrigation system including drippers close
to and farthest from the mainline. In this way the uniformity
of delivery by the emitters, and uniformity of distribution of
water across the eld can be assessed and required adjustment
can be made.
Inltration rate (IR)
IR is the measure of speed at which water can move through
a soil prole, and it is largely related to soil texture, and
affected by bulk density, organic matter, surface soil stability
and ground cover. IR of a soil determines the maximum rate
at which irrigation should be applied. If irrigation exceeds IR
it will result in soil puddling and run-off. The inltration rates
for different soil types are presented in Table 8.
Table 8. Example values of soil water characteristics for various
soil textures (Ramsey, 2007)
Soil texture Field
wilting point
rate (mm/h)
Coarse sand 0.10 0.05 0.05 22
Sand 0.15 0.07 0.08 13
Loamy sand 0.18 0.07 0.11 12
Sandy loam 0.20 0.08 0.12 10
Loam 0.25 0.10 0.15 7
Silt loam 0.30 0.12 0.18 6
Silty clay loam 0.38 0.22 0.16 5
Clay loam 0.40 0.25 0.15 4
Silty clay 0.40 0.27 0.13 3
Clay 0.40 0.28 0.12 2
1AWC for -8kPa to -60kPa. These are example values, considerable variations
from these values with in each soil textural class may be noted in the eld.
Dept of Rooting Zone
Effective rooting depth is determined by crop type (Table 9)
and presence of impeding layers of soil to root growth (Fig.
Rooting depth is generally regarded as the zone where roots
are easily observed. Where root growth is restricted by an
impeding chemical and physical barrier, the effective rooting
depth is the depth to this layer. The rooting density decrease
with depth as illustrated in Figure 32. Rooting depth must be
taken into consideration for irrigation.
(a) (b)
Figure 32. Illustration of the effective root zone (a) and soil
heterogeneity and root distribution in the soil prole (b). (Ramsey, 2007)
Water holding capacity of the soil varies greatly from 10 - 60
Water holding capacity = Field capacity (-8kPa) - rell point
(approximately -60kPa).
The quantity of water applied in one irrigation should not
exceed the inltration rate; otherwise water will be lost
below the root zone and/or added to the water table if one
Table 9. Maximum rooting depths of irrigated crops in a
medium textured soil (Evans et al.,1996)
Rooting depths
30 cm 45 cm 60 cm 75 cm
Flowers Field peas Peanuts Alfalfa
Strawberry Potatoes Field corn Cotton
Kale Tobacco Soybean
Lettuce Beans Asparagus
Mustard Beet Cantaloupes
Spinach Broccoli Sweet corn
Onion Cabbage Egg plant
Pepper Cauliower Okra
Carrots Watermelon
Estimating Crop Water Use
Estimating crop water use
Scheduling irrigation based on crop water use minimizes chances
of under- or over-watering. Proper irrigation also ensures crop
growth and minimizes leaching of fertilizers beyond the root zone.
Weather data can be used for estimating crop water requirements,
and is a handy management tool when it is used in conjunction with
scheduling methods.
Water use is directly proportional to plant growth. Plants use water
in transpiration. They use it in a process known as transpiration. The
root hairs take water from the soil. The water travels through the
stem towards the leaves. The water evaporates into the air through
pores in the surface of the leaves. Water is also lost when it evaporates
from the soil and other surfaces. The combined loss of water through
transpiration and evaporation is termed as evapotranspiration.
Measuring the evapotranspiration will tell you how much water is
being used by the crop. The amount of water used by the crop will
depend upon the type of crop and its stage of growth. It will also
depend on environmental factors such as sunlight, humidity, wind
speed and temperature.
Crop water use can be measured using three methods: 1) plant-
based, 2) weather-based and 3) soil-based.
Plant-based method
This method is based on the appearance of the plant in response to
water stress. Wilting is a sign of water stress and some farmers may
irrigate when plants start to show signs of wilting. In many cases,
wilting means that the crop is already under water stress. Stress will
cause plant growth to slow down. This will reduce yield and quality
of the crop. Wilting and signs of plant stress may happen even when
there is water in the soil. For example, some plants roll their leaves
or wilt in the middle of a hot, windy day. Wilting is also a sign of
water-logging or root diseases. This method is not always reliable in
monitoring crop water use.
Weather-based method
Weather affects crop evapotranspiration. Hence, measurement
of evapotranspiration (ET) provides estimates of water use by the
crop. Evapotranspiration is calculated using a “reference crop.” The
reference crop is an extensive surface of green grass cover of uniform
height, actively growing, completely shading the ground and not short
of water. Reference crop evapotranspiration (ETo) can be found at a
local weather station. This information indicates how much water the
reference crop has used each day. The particular crop of interest will
be different from the reference crop.
Soil water-based method
This method of measurement is based on the amount of water in
the soil and calculation of the amount of water needed to rell
the readily available water (RAW). There are three basic methods
for nding the amount of water held in the soil: 1) gravimetric, 2)
volumetric, and 3) tension. Gravimetric method is done by drying
a soil sample in the oven. The decrease in unit weight over that of
eld capacity represents the amount of water loss or used by the
crop. Volumetric method uses nuclear or electrical methods such as
gypsum blocks. The effort a plant has to use to extract water held
by soil is measured by a tensiometer and expressed in centibars (cb)
or kilo Pascals (kPa). Each method of measuring the amount of water
held in the soil has advantages and disadvantages. Select the tool
that is best suited for your farm.
The amount of water required to supplement crop water needs
depends on crop type, local climate, and soil conditions (Fig. 33).
Integrating information calculated by different methods allows one to
evaluate plant water relation with respect to soil-plant-atmosphere
continuum. This allows growers or irrigation designers to estimate
how much water will be required during the cropping season, and
how best to deliver it to meet the crop’s peak demand. This approach
is most effective when used in conjunction with other scheduling
Estimating crop water use by the moisture-accounting method
The Moisture Accounting Method involves steps to estimate soil
moisture content by using weather data. It is based on a soil water
balance. For instance, if the moisture content of a soil is known
at any given time, the moisture content at any later time can be
computed by adding water gains (effective rain and/or irrigation)
and subtracting water losses (run-off, deep percolation and crop
evapotranspiration - ETc) during the elapsed period.
Keeping the daily water balance is a simple procedure, but it must be
completed each day. By knowing the daily values for inow (rainfall
or irrigation) and outow (crop water use), the daily balance can be
calculated as shown in Table 11. As soon as the accumulated water
decit exceeds the value of the net irrigation application depth (i.e.
the net amount of irrigation water applied), more irrigation water
is supplied to maintain optimum soil moisture content for plant
growth. Three factors determine the amount of water used by crops
as follows:
1. Crop factor: The data on crop rooting depth (Table 9), growth
stages and crop coefcient (Table 10) are required for the moisture
The length of the total growing season and each growth stage of
the crop are important when estimating crop water needs. The
growth of an annual crop can be divided into four stages:
• Initial (establishment): from sowing to 10% ground
• Crop development : from 10 to 70% ground cover
• Mid-season (fruit formation): including owering and
fruit set or yield formation
• Late-season: including ripening and harvest.
Figure 33. Typical water use curve for most agronomic crops. (NSW DPI, 2008c)
Figure 34. Calculating crop evapotranspiration (ETc) (Qassim and
Ashcroft, 2006)
Table 10. Crop coefcient (Kc) for various growth stages of
selected vegetable crops (Doorenboos and Kassam, 1979)
1The rst crop reading is for high humidity and low wind conditions, 2The second reading is
for low humidity and strong wind conditions. Source: Doorenbos and Kassam (1979).
Crop Initial Development Mid season Late At harvest
Cabbage 0.41 - 0.520.7 - 0.8 0.95 - 1.1 0.9 - 1.0 0.8 - 0.95
Carrots 0.4 - 0.6 0.6 - 0.75 1.0 - 1.15 0.8 - 0.9 0.7 - 0.80
Cucumber 0.4 - 0.5 0.7 - 0.8 0.95 - 1.05 0.8 - 0.9 0.65 - 0.75
Lettuce 0.3 - 0.5 0.6 - 0.7 0.95 - 1.1 0.9 - 1.0 0.8 - 0.95
Onions dry 0.4 - 0.6 0.7 - 0.8 0.95 - 1.1 0.85 - 0.9 0.75 - 0.85
Onions green 0.4 - 0.6 0.6 - 0.75 0.95 - 1.05 0.95 - 1.05 0.95 - 1.05
Pepper 0.3 - 0.4 0.6 - 0.75 0.95 - 1.1 0.85 - 1.0 0.8 - 0.9
Tomato 0.4 - 0.5 0.7 - 0.8 1.05 - 1.25 0.8 - 0.95 0.6 - 0.65
A crop coefcient (Kc) relates crop water use at a particular
development stage to the amount of evapotranspiration
(ET) calculated from weather data. Table 10 shows the crop
coefcient (Kc) for selected vegetable crops at various stages
of growth.
Crop evapotranspiration is calculated using the equation:
ETc = Kc x ET
o (Fig. 34).
Where: ETc = Crop Evapotranspiration
Kc = Crop Coefcient
o = Reference Evapotranspiration
Table 11 shows the critical growth stages of crops for
determining irrigation water needs.
2. Soil factor (Total and readily available water): Ideally, a
soil should hold enough water to facilitate plant growth, and
have the capability to drain away any excess. It is important
to understand the way in which water behaves in the soil
if irrigation efciency is to be maximized. Total available
water (TAW), readily available water (RAW) and depletion
fraction (p) are critical to planning an appropriate irrigation
schedule. To maintain soil moisture at optimum levels, it is
important to understand that not all of the total available
water is used before the next irrigation is applied. TAW is
lowest in sandy (S) soils and greatest in heavy clay (HCL) soil:
S<SL<L<LCL<CL<HCL. Generally the RAW is only about 50% TAW.
3. Climate factor: Water is lost from the soil surface by
evaporation and from the crop via transpiration, i.e. in
total evapotranspiration (ET). Water losses through ET are
inuenced by weather conditions (temperature, wind, solar
radiation and relative humidity), and are estimated using
these factors.
The crop, soil and climate factors can be modied to improve
the water use efciency of vegetable crops.
The moisture accounting method is illustrated in Table 12, for
a tomato crop grown in clay soil. As soon as the accumulated
decit exceeds 40 mm, a further irrigation is supplied.
To use the moisture balance sheet, complete the following
Decide which crop will be grown (e.g. tomatoes).
• Estimate or measure root depth by digging a hole next
to the crop, or alternatively use Table 6.
• Find out the soil type and determine total available
water (Table 6).
• Decide on an appropriate depletion fraction (p) roughly
0.3-0.5 for vegetable crops.
• Calculate readily available water = depletion fraction
(p) of total available water.
• Calculate net irrigation application depth (mm) =
root depth readily available water. Record reference
evapotranspiration (ETo) from climate data or calculate
it from pan evaporation.
• Multiply ETo in mm/day (column A) by the appropriate
crop coefcient (Kc) value (column B) to obtain crop
water needs.
• Record daily rainfall and estimate effective rainfall
(mm) (column D & E).
• Add up column H for all water decits since the last
irrigation and subtract effective rainfall. (After an
irrigation event the soil is saturated and crop water
use is assumed to be zero).
Soil water relationships and
irrigation water requirements
of various vegetable crops are
presented in Table 13.
Asparagus 63-115 establishment and fern development
Bean, green 63-95 bloom and pod set
Bean, pinto 95-125 bloom and pod set
Beet, table 63-95 establishment and early growth
Broccoli 125-160 establishment and heading
Cabbage 125-190 uniform throughout growth
Cantaloupe 83-125 establishment vining to rst net
Carrot 63-95 emergence through establishment
Cauliower 125-190 establishment and 6 - 7 leaf stage
Celery 190-223 uniform, last mont of growth
Collards/kale 75-90 uniform throughout growth
Corn, sweet 125-223 establishment, tassel elongation, ear development
Cowpea 63-95 bloom, fruit set, pod development
Cucumber, pickle 95-125 establishment, vining, fruit set
Cucumber, slicer 125-160 establishment, vining, fruit set
Eggplant 125-223 bloom through fruit set
Garlic 95-125 rapid growth to maturity
Lettuce 50-75 establishment
Mustard green 63-95 uniform throughout growth
Okra 95-125 uniform throughout growth
Onion 160-190 establishment, bulbing to maturity
Pepper, bell 160-223 establishment, bloom set
Pepper, jalapeno 160-190 uniform throughout growth
Potato 125-255 vining, bloom, tuber initiation
Pumpkin 160-190 2-4 wks after emergence, bloom, fruit set and development
Radish, red globe 33-63 rapid growth and development
Spinach 63-95 uniform throughout growth, after each cut if needed
Squash 45-63 uniform throughout growth
Sweetpotato 63-125 uniform until 2 - 3 wks prior to anticipated harvest
Tomato 125-160 bloom through harvest
Turnip 63-95 uniform throughout growth
Watermelon 63-95 uniform until 10 - 14 days prior to anticipated harvest
Table 11. Critical growth stage of crops, and crop total water use, for determining irrigation water needs (Doorenboos and Kassam, 1979)
Crop: Tomatoes
Soil type: Clay
Month: January
Effective root depth (Drz)= 0.55m , p = 0.4, TAW = 180 mm/m, RAW = 0.480 = 72 mm
Net irrigation depth = Drz RAW = 0.55 x 72 = 39.6 (~40 mm) (step 6)
A B C = A B D E = D - 5mm F H = (E+F) - C
Day ETo (mm/
Crop coefcient
Crop water use
(ETc) (mm/day)
Effective rain
Irrigation application
d net (mm)
Cumulative soil water decit
1 7.6 0.85 6.5 0 0 0 -6.5
2 8.6 0.85 7.3 3.8 0 0 -13.8
3 8.6 0.85 7.3 0.4 0 0 -21.1
4 8.8 0.85 7.5 0 0 0 -28.6
5 7.1 0.85 6.0 0 0 0 -34.6
6 9.1 0.85 7.7 0 0 40 Irrigation
7 6.4 0.85 5.4 0 0 0 0.00
8 3.4 0.85 2.9 0 0 0 -2.9
9 6.2 0.85 5.3 6 1 0 -8.2
10 6.3 0.85 5.4 3.2 0 0 -13.6
11 4.3 0.85 3.7 4.6 0 0 -17.3
12 7.7 0.85 6.5 1.4 0 0 -23.8
13 8.7 0.85 7.4 17.8 12.8 0 -11.0
14 7.2 0.85 6.1 0 0 0 -17.1
15 7.0 0.85 6.0 0 0 0 -23.1
16 8.4 0.85 7.1 0 0 0 -30.2
Table 12. Moisture balance sheet for scheduling irrigation in a tomato crop (NSW DPI, 2008c)
1To calculate effective rainfall, during spring, summer and autumn periods, subtract 5
mm from each of the daily rainfall totals. Assume rainfalls of 5 mm or less to be non-
signicant (zero for crop water use). In winter, all the rainfall is assumed to be effective.
Preferred soil
cm in
Irrigation Critical
Moisture Period
ance (3)
Defects Caused by
Water Decit Comments
Asparagus 0.70 40% 2.5/20 Crown set, and transplanting a,b H D Shriveling Withstand most drought
Beans, dry 0.45 50% 2.5/7 Flowering a M M Poor pod & beans Drying pod-no irrigation
Beans, lima 0.45 50% 2.5/7 Flowering a,b L-M D Poor pod & beans Cooling irrigation better
Beans, pole 0.34 60% 2.5/5 Flowering a L-M M Poor & pithy pods Steady moisture - owering
Beans, snap 0.45 50 2.5/7 Flowering a L-M M Poor & pithy pods Irrigation prior to owering has little
Veg. soybean 0.70 40% 2.5/14 Flowering a,b M M Poor pod ll -“-
Beet 2.00 20% 2.5/14 Root expansion a,b M M Growth cracks
Broccoli 0.25 70% 2.5/5 Head development a,b,c L S Strong avor
Brussels sprout 0.25 70% 2.5/5 Sprout formation a,b,c M S Poor sprout production
Cabbage 0.34 60% 2.5/10 Head development a,b M-H S Growth cracks
Cantaloupe 0.34 60% 2.5/10 Flowering, fruit development a,b M S-M
Carrot 0.45 50% 2.5/21 Seed germination root
expansion a,b M-H S-M Growth cracks, misshapen roots Avoid droughts during root expansion
Cauliower 0.34 60% 2.5/5 Head development a,b,c L S Ricey curd, buttoning
Celery 0.25 70% 2.5/5 Continuous a,b,c,d L S Small petioles Moisture decit can stop growth
Chinese cabbage 0.25 70% -2.5/5 Continuous a,c L S Tough leaves
Collards 0.45 50% 2.5/14 Continuous a,b,c M S Tough leaves
Corn, sweet 0.45 50% 2.5/14 Silking a,b M-H S Poor ear ll Irrigation prior to silking has little value
Cucumber, pickles 0.45 50% 2.5/7 Flowering and fruiting a,b,c L S-M Pointed and cracked fruit Moisture decit drastically reduce yield
and quality
Cucumber, slicer 0.45 50% 2.5/7 Flowering and fruiting a,b,c L S-M -- -“-
Eggplant 0.45 50% 2.5/7 Flowering and fruiting a,b,c M M BER,misshapen fruit
Greens (turnip,
mustard, kale) 0.25 70% 2.5/7 Continuous a,b L M Tough leaves Good continuous moisture essential to
good yield
Leek 0.25 70% 2.5/5 Continuous a,b L-M S Thin scale
Lettuce 0.34 60% 2.5/7 Head exapnsion a.b D Small leaves
Table 13. Soil water relations and irrigation requirements of various vegetable crops (Doorenboos and Peruitt, 1992)
Preferred soil
cm in
Irrigation Critical
Moisture Period
ance (3)
Defects Caused by
Water Decit Comments
Okra 0.70 40% 2.5/14 Flowering a,c M-H D Tough pods Irrigation can reduce yield
Onion 0.25 70% 2.5/7 Bulb development a,b L S Poor size
Parsnip 0.70 40% 2.5/14 Root expansion a,b H D
Peas, Garden) 0.70 40% 2.5/7 Flowering a L M Poor pod ll
Peppers 0.45 50% 2.5/7 Transplanting ower-fruit
growth a,b,c M M Shriveled pods, blossom-end rot Irrigate for increased pod size and yield
Potato, Irish 0.35 70% 2.5/7 After owering a,b M S Regrowth and misshapen roots Irrigate at drought during root
Pumpkin 0.70 40% 2.5/14 Fruiting a,b M D Blossom-end rot
Radish 0.25 70% 2.5/5 Continuous a L S Pithy roots Good soil moisture needed for rapid
Rhubarb 2.00 20% 2.5/21 Leaf emergence a,b M D Pithy stems
Rutabagas 0.45 50% 2.5/14 Root expansion a,b M M Tough roots
Southern peas 0.70 40% 2.5/14 Flowering and pod swelling a,b M M Poor pod ll Plants recover from drought but yield
is reduced
Squash, summer 0.25 70% 2.5/5 Fruit sizing a,c L M Pointed and misshapen fruit Fruit sizing. Irrigation can double or
triple yields
Squash, winter 0.70 40% 2.5/10 Fruit sizing a,b M D
Sweet potato 2.00 20% 2.5/21 Fruit & last 40 days a,b H D Small, misshapen roots
Tomato, staked 0.45 50% 2.5/5 Fruit expansion a,c M D Blossom and root growth cracks Good moisture avoid BER and increase
fruit size
Tomato, ground 0.45 50% 2.5/7 Fruit expansion a,b M D Blossom and root growth cracks
Tomato, process 0.45 50% 2.5/7 Fruit expansion a,b M D Blossom and root growth cracks
Turnip 0.45 50% 2.5/10 Root expansion a,b M M Woody roots
Watermelon 2.00 40% 2.5/21 Fruit expansion a,b,c M-H D Blossom end rot tolerate drought, low yield
(1) ASM (Available Soil Moisture). Percentage of soil water between eld capacity (-0.1 bar) and permanent wilting point (-15 bars).
(2) Irrigation method: a = Sprinkler; b = Big Gun; c = Trickle (drip); d = Flood.
(3) Drought tolerance: L = low; M = moderate, needs irrigation most years; H = high, seldom needs irrigation.
(4) Depth of rooting of most roots: S = shallow, 30-46 cm; M = moderate, 46-61 cm; D = deep, 61 cm plus.
Irrigation Water Quality
Irrigation water quality and
drip irrigation with recycled
The quality of irrigation water has profound effects on the soil,
crops, and irrigation infrastructure. Common soil problems
associated with water quality are related to salinity, water
inltration rate, ion toxicity, and long term structural changes
in the soil. Laboratory determinations and calculations needed
to use the guidelines are given in Tables 14 and 15.
Growing trends towards concentrated population in the cities
will increase the access for treated waste water in the peri-
urban area for horticultural crops in the future. Wastewater
reuse for agriculture and managed landscapes will aid in
meeting growing water demands and conserve current potable
supplies in many parts of the world. Therefore, opportunities
exist to use alternative water supplies for irrigation such as
treated municipal wastewater. However, wastewaters often
contain microbial and chemical contaminants that may
affect public health and environmental integrity. Wastewater
pretreatment strategies and advanced irrigation systems may
limit contaminant exposure to crops and humans. Subsurface
drip irrigation (SDI) shows promise for safely delivering
reclaimed wastewater. The closed system of SDI pipes and
emitters minimizes the exposure of soil surfaces, above ground
plant parts, and groundwater to reclaimed wastewater. The
potential for salt and sodic hazard in soils increases with
wastewater irrigation but with SDI the total water input, and,
therefore, the salt load can also be minimized. Benecial
and safe use of reclaimed wastewater for SDI will depend on
management strategies that focus on irrigation pretreatment,
virus monitoring, eld and crop selection, and periodic leaching
of salts.
Optimization of SDI has been further achieved by the latest
development of oxygation (Bhattarai and Midmore, 2009).
Oxygation (using aerated water with subsurface drip irrigation)
improves yield and water use efciency of vegetable production
under saline and non-saline soil conditions. An inline air
injector, suitable for home gardening, can be operated with
the pressure in the drinking water tap. Burying the drip tape
just a few centimeters below the soil surface increases the
utility of drip irrigation by reducing the evaporative loss of soil
water and maximizes the benet of oxygation in a number of
crops. This also keeps the weed growth down as the surface is
dry, and offers the opportunity for maximization of inltration
of rain water into the soil prole.
Potential Irrigation Problem Units
Degree of Restriction on Use
None Slight to Moderate Severe
Salinity(affects crop water availability)2
ECw dS/m < 0.7 0.7 – 3.0 > 3.0
TDS mg/l < 450 450 – 2000 > 2000
Inltration (affects inltration rate of water into the soil. Evaluate using ECw and SAR together)3
SAR = 0 – 3 and ECw = > 0.7 0.7 – 0.2 < 0.2
= 3 – 6 = > 1.2 1.2 – 0.3 < 0.3
= 6 – 12 = > 1.9 1.9 – 0.5 < 0.5
= 12 – 20 = > 2.9 2.9 – 1.3 < 1.3
= 20 – 40 = > 5.0 5.0 – 2.9 < 2.9
Specic Ion Toxicity (affects sensitive crops)
Sodium (Na)4
surface irrigation SAR < 3 3 – 9 > 9
sprinkler irrigation me/l < 3 > 3
Chloride (Cl)4
surface irrigation me/l < 4 4 – 10 > 10
sprinkler irrigation me/l < 3 > 3
Boron (B)5mg/l < 0.7 0.7 – 3.0 > 3.0
Trace Elements (see Table 21)
Miscellaneous Effects (affects susceptible crops)
Nitrogen (NO3 - N)6mg/l < 5 5 – 30 > 30
Bicarbonate (HCO3)
(overhead sprinkling only) me/l < 1.5 1.5 – 8.5 > 8.5
pH Normal Range 6.5 – 8.4
1 Adapted from University of California Committee of Consultants 1974.
2 ECw means electrical conductivity, a measure of the water salinity, reported in deciSiemens per meter at 25°C (dS/m) or in units millimhos per centimeter (mmho/cm). Both are equivalent. TDS means
total dissolved solids, reported in milligrams per liter (mg/l).
3 SAR means sodium adsorption ratio. SAR is sometimes reported by the symbol RNa. See Figure1 for the SAR calculation procedure. At a given SAR, inltration rate increases as water salinity
increases. Evaluate the potential inltration problem by SAR as modied by ECw.Adapted from Rhoades 1977, and Oster and Schroer 1979. 4 For surface irrigation, most tree crops and woody plants
are sensitive to sodium and chloride; use the values shown. Most annual crops are not sensitive; use the salinity tolerance tables (Tables 4 and 5). For chloride tolerance of selected fruit crops, see
Table 14. With overhead sprinkler irrigation and low humidity (< 30 percent), sodium and chloride may be absorbed through the leaves of sensitive crops.
6 NO3 -N means nitrate nitrogen reported in terms of elemental nitrogen (NH4 -N and Organic-N should be included when wastewater is being tested).
Source: Ayers and Westcott, 1985.
Table 14. Guideline for interpretations of water quality for irrigation1
Water parameter Symbol Unit1Usual range in irrigation water
Salt Content
Electrical Conductivity ECw dS/m 0 – 3 dS/m
Total Dissolved Solids TDS mg/l 0 – 2000 mg/l
Cations and Anions
Calcium Ca++ me/l 0 – 20 me/l
Magnesium Mg++ me/l 0 – 5 me/l
Sodium Na+ me/l 0 – 40 me/l
Carbonate CO--3me/l 0 – .1 me/l
Bicarbonate HCO3- me/l 0 – 10 me/l
Chloride Cl- me/l 0 – 30 me/l
Sulphate SO4-- me/l 0 – 20 me/l
Nitrate-Nitrogen NO3-N mg/l 0 – 10 mg/l
Ammonium-Nitrogen NH4-N mg/l 0 – 5 mg/l
Phosphate-Phosphorus PO4-P mg/l 0 – 2 mg/l
Potassium K+ mg/l 0 – 2 mg/l
Boron B mg/l 0 – 2 mg/l
Acid/Basicity pH 1–14 6.0 – 8.5
Sodium Adsorption Ratio SAR (me/l) 0 – 15
1 dS/m = deciSiemen/meter in S.I. units (equivalent to 1 mmho/cm = 1 millimmho/centi-metre)
mg/l = milligram per liter ≃ parts per million (ppm).
me/l = milliequivalent per liter (mg/l ÷ equivalent weight = me/l); in SI units, 1 me/l= 1 millimol/liter adjusted for electron charge.
Table 15. Laboratory determinations needed to evaluate common irrigation water quality
problems (Ayers and Wescott, 1985)
Irrigation System Assessment
Irrigation system assessment
An Irrigation System Assessment evaluates the irrigation system
performance to ensure that it is operated to match the crop, soil
and climate conditions present. Irrigation is scheduled to replace
the climate moisture decit in a manner that does not exceed the
crop’s ability to utilize the water, or the soil’s capacity to store the
water applied.
A key objective of an Irrigation System Assessment is to ensure
that water is used efciently and will meet the crop’s water needs
while preventing water loss due to surface ow, leaching or drift.
Appropriate irrigation equipment selection and design, as well as
good management and scheduling, will conserve water supplies
while supporting crop growth. Evapotranspiration (ET) is the driver
that determines how much water is being used by the plant. The
climate moisture decit is the difference between the accumulated
ET and the effective rainfall. ET is used to determine the irrigation
system peak ow rate and annual crop water requirement.
An Irrigation System Assessment can benet farm productivity,
enhance protection of the environment, as well as benet the
environment by conserving water and preventing nutrient losses. For
the farm, good water management means:
• Knowing the farm’s irrigation requirements and
reducing unnecessary water usage
• Saving energy by operating the system efciently
• Reducing runoff and leaching of nutrients beyond
the plant’s rooting depth
• Maximizing crop yield
To complete an Irrigation Management Plan, irrigation systems
must be assessed for distribution uniformity (DU) and application
efciency. Once irrigation system performance has been checked and
improved if necessary, an irrigation schedule can be developed. DU is
a measurement of the evenness of water application over a eld, and
is expressed as a percentage. Application efciency is an indication
of the percentage of water applied by the irrigation system that is
actually available in the right place at the right time. The distribution
uniformity of the low cost drip system can be assessed by measuring
the volume of water over the irrigation period in random catch cans
in the eld, per one emitter.
Socioeconomic Evaluation of
Small-scale Drip Irrigation
Basic economic evaluaton of
small-scale drip irrigation
To ensure the successful adoption of a farming technology, the new
technology should perform better than existing farm technology, help
farmers increase productivity, generate substantially higher income,
and save on capital and/or labor costs. Farmers are willing to invest
in new technology when they feel adequate economic benets will
accrue from using the new technology.
For successful technology adoption at a community- or region-wide
scale, the technology recommended to smallholder farmers should
generate extra benets, but should not impose a major risk for crop
failure. The level of risk associated with a technology is a critical
factor governing farmers’ adoption behavior, as excessive risk
would deter many potential smallholder farmers from adopting the
technology. A technology becomes risky when it is a “large” (needs
high investment) or a “lumpy” (useful for a specic purpose only)
A new technology recommended by extension agents or agriculture
service providers is more likely to be adopted when farmers are
aware of the economic benets of replacing the old technology or
practice. Thus, an economic assessment of low-cost drip technology,
as illustrated in this chapter, is an important aspect of assessing
technology performance in the eld and validating the technology. A
technology must also perform well economically, make efcient use
of resources, and promote nancial sustainability.
Wide adoption of low-cost drip irrigation technology brings benets
to the community at large in terms of increased crop production and
food security, increased employment opportunities (especially for
landless households), and lower prices for local produce. Increasing
cropping intensity and increasing employment at certain critical
periods of the year is an important aspect of rural development.
There are two types of economic benets that accrue from the
adoption of a new technology by a farmer:
a) Farm level benets. Most of the benets are
realized by the farmers adopting the technology,
for example, increased crop productivity, increased
cropping intensity, increased farm income. This
also includes reduced cost of scarce resources,
lower cost or less need for hired labor, or less need
for chemicals or irrigation water.
b) Community or social benets. These benets
include increased employment availability
per hectare of land, increased availability of
employment at critical periods of the year when
work is not available locally, reduced produce
prices (although farmers may lose out on this), etc.
A good economic evaluation of technology adoption should quantify
both the farm and community level benets of the technology.
It should be noted that assessing community-level benets is
demanding, and time is needed to realize the full scale of these
benets in the technology adoption process.
Economic analysis at the farm level provides information about the
economic viability of the technology based on the decision making
behavior of individual farmers. A farm level economic analysis of drip
technology can be performed in two ways: 1) Partial budget analysis,
or 2) farm enterprise budget analysis. The method a practitioner
chooses depends on resources, time, and economic information
1. Partial budget analysis of the drip technology
A partial budget analysis of crop production activities with and
without drip technology provides a good snapshot of information on
nancial viability of the technology in relation to farmers’ level of
investment. This sheds light on the scale of economic benets that
accrue to the farmer adopting the drip technology, and the effective
use of scarce resources (scarce capital and labor).
In the rst or second years of adopting small-scale drip technology,
no major change would occur on structure of farm, land use changes
etc., but only such change would occur at the production practices of
selected two crops, increased crop intensity using the drip irrigation
technology, and increased crop yield and of farm employment
and farm income. Hence, a simple economic assessment using a
framework of partial budgeting serves the purpose, which is also
easy and convenient to gauge economic viability of the technology
instantly and with limited need of expertise to carry out such
economic analysis. Experts from other disciplines can also carry out
the partial budget analysis.
To carry out partial budget analysis, we need to know only those
changes on cost and benets of the farm enterprises that are caused
by the drip technology, i.e., additional changes brought by the
decision of technology adoption, or changes at the marginal level
of resources uses. Here, we do not need to analyze change on use
of other farm resources brought by the technology than that of the
direct impacts of the drip irrigation on crop productivity and farm
return (including due to cost saving on inputs use). Its procedures
and methods are illustrated in Table 16, but using some hypothetical
S. N Negative effects Amount S. N Positive effects Amount
Additional cost
incurred by use
of the drip tech-
US$25 E
Additional annual
return from the drip
technology (due to
increased yield)
Reduced returns
due to the tech-
Nil F
Reduced cost in use
of input materials
(labor saving, etc)
C Sub Total (A+ B) US $25 G Sub total ( a +b) US$175
Net change on income brought by the technology= G- C = 175 - 25 = US$
Note: 1. Assume that the drip irrigation set cost US$100, which is then divided into 2
years (or four crop seasons @ two dry season crop /year). Hence, depreciated cost of
the drip technology per crop season is US$100/4 = US$25.
Basic steps to follow to derive the partial budget:
• Specify and estimate all of the cost components that
will increase or decrease with adoption of the drip
• Specify and estimate all components of additional
returns (increase or decrease) with adoption of the
drip technology.
• If the estimated change brought by the technology
is positive (i.e., if additional total return is higher
than that of additional total cost) then the drip set
is giving more economic benets to the farmer than
Table 16. Partial budgets to estimate to change on net farm
income in a crop season due to adoption of drip technology
• measuring all of the external inputs used by farmers,
levels of crop yield and valuing all of them in
monetary level;
• listing the level of labor (by key activities) used in
production process ( separated by family and hired
labor use);
• Constructing the farm budget table to facilitate
economic analysis (Table 17).
The economic analysis of drip is illustrated by a numerical example
(a hypothetical data) and with assumptions on some of the crop
production, which are as realistic as the data obtained in the context
of developing countries in Asia. Comparison of some of the economic
parameters such as net return, real net return and ratio of real
return to investment across the alternate investment (enterprises)
provide improved and more realistic information for farm investment
Major assumptions made while deriving enterprise budget in Table 16
are listed below.
a. Total cost of the small-scale drip set is US$100, which
is distributed evenly to four crop periods in the period
of two years. Thus US$100 as a total xed cost of drip
is equally divided into $25 per crop season basis.
b. The cost for application of other input materials is
same for tomato production with and without drip
technology. This includes cost for fertilizers, manures,
pesticides, other chemicals, post harvest baskets etc.,
except the human labor cost
c. In practice, the drip irrigation would reduce labor
that of the case without use of the drip.
• Only items that are changed after the adoption of
the drip technology are included in the analysis; and
it is assumed that other factors that are not counted
in the analysis remain unchanged after adoption of
the drip technology.
2. Farm Enterprise Budget Analysis
The process of deriving farm enterprise budget table is a little more
complicated than that of the partial budget analysis, but information
generated from farm enterprise budget analysis is more informative.
Thereby, it reects more accurately the decision-making behavior
of a typical farmer in adoption or not use of the new technology
(production practices) in question. The process of producing a
particular farm commodity is called as farm enterprise hence a
detailed component analysis of inputs used and outputs produced
while producing a farm community (by farm enterprise), and
expressing these numbers in a more formalized way or in a monetary
term, is known as Farm Enterprise Budget Analysis”. For example,
say production of tomato using the drip technology is considered as
an enterprise A and production of tomato without drip technology
(under furrow irrigation) is considered as enterprise B. Then, when
the net return from the farm-enterprise A is higher than that of
enterprise B, then the drip technology is considered as a protable
investment activity, or vice versa.
Basic sets of farm enterprise data needed for analyzing crop
production with drip technology (enterprise A), and with out drip
technology (enterprise B), are derived by:
time for irrigating a crop; hence, the total labor
use under drip is assumed less than that of the drip
technology. Nevertheless, because of increased yield,
there would be slightly more number of labor uses for
harvesting under the drip technology. These factors
have been accounted in the data illustrated in Table
d. Quality of the tomato harvested under drip and
without drip technology will remain same and they
fetch the same market prices.
In Table 17 on the next page, economic parameters of “net return”
and “real net return” are estimated separately. The parameter net
return does not account for opportunity cost of using family labor
in cultivation of tomato; while the parameter of real net return
accounts for the opportunity cost of family labor uses in farming.
In subsistence economy where rural employment level is also very
high, calculating net return is acceptable for such enterprise budget
analysis; but in a place where rural labor market is already tight (low
unemployment level), and where real wage rate is also substantially
high (specially in peak time of crop season), then estimation of
parameter like “real net return” is more appropriate in terms of
reecting the actual investment behavior of an average farmers. All
other economic parameters derived in Table 17 are self-explanatory,
and the methods derived in estimation of these parameters are also
provided under the column “remarks.”
Farmers tend to be risk-averse because of the uncertainty associated
with crop yield, which depends on natural and external forces outside
of a farmer’s control, such as the amount of rainfall, ooding,
drought, pests and diseases, or excessive price uctuation.
S.N Indicators Unit
Tomato production
with drip
(Enterprise A)
Tomato production
without drip (Enter-
prise B)
I Return
1 Crop productivity Kg 3000 2000
2 Avg. harvest crop price US$/kg 0.2 0.2
I Return
1 Crop productivity Kg 3000 2000
2 Avg. harvest crop price US$/kg 0.2 0.2
3 Total Gross returns 600 400
II Variable Cost components
4Total material costs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, harvesting bas-
kets, etc). 150 150 All materials except labor & drip sets
5.1 Total number of family labor days employed Days/crop 40 70 Family labor
5.2 Total hired labor employed Days/crop 10 10 # of labor
5.3 Total labor days employed Days/crop 50 80 Family + hired labor
6.1 Total hired labor cost US$ 20 20 wage@ $2/day
6.2 Total labor cost (family + hired labor) US$ 100 160 Family labor included
7.1 Total working capital needs (total cash outlays) US$ 170 170 (4 + 6.1)
7.2 Total variable cost used (including family labor cost) US$ 250 310 (4 + 6.2)
8 Fixed cost (depreciation of drip equipment US$ 25 0 Include interest cost
9 Total Cost of the production US $ 275 310
III Selected economic performance indicators
10 Net return over purchased inputs US$ 405 230 (3 -7.1- 8)
11 Real net return (accounting for both hired and family labor) US$ 325 90 (3- 7.2 - 8)
12 Ratio of real net return to total production cost Ratio 1.18 0.75 row 11/ row 7.2
13 Total production cost per kg US$/kg 0.09 0.08 row 9/row 1
14. Prot (real net return) per kg of crop produced/sold US$/Kg 0.11 0.12 (row 3- row 13)
Table 17. Productivity, gross returns, and economic efciency of production of tomato under drip and alternate
technology (0.1 ha basis)
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... Currently in the Republic the area of irrigation is 4280 hectares and rich in natural and economic conditions, availability of labor resources has enabled steady economic growth and development of the national economy [1]. In the last two years through the use of innovative equipment, irrigation technologies, irrigation and drainage systems achieved high yields in many farms of cotton, vegetables, orchards and vineyards, fodder, legumes etc [2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15]. Advances received two or more crops on the irrigated lands during the calendar year [1,7,11,15]. ...
... Where; ∆a = I00-a; a-relative humidity of the surface air layer; t-average monthly temperature of the surface air layer, о С, P-atmospheric precipitation, mm; G-amount of incoming groundwater into the calculated layer, m 3 /ga. With drip irrigation garden bandpass moistened with each tree, hence the formula moistening each watering will have the following logical form for gardens formula N.N.Dubenok: (14) Where;B -field width, m; V -field length, m; а -distance between apple trees by field width m; ...
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This article presents the results of long-term theoretical experimental field studies on drip irrigation of Apple orchard of the cultivar “Golden” in the conditions of Tashkent region. Based on the analysis of climate, soil, hydrogeological, hydrological and economic conditions of the experimental plot and biological features of the garden is determined by the values of total water use, scarcity of water, irrigation, irrigation norms and number of irrigations bioclimatic method.
... Reduced or no till system sequesters higher fractions of C and principles along with a systemic approach, can significantly contribute to improve the water-soil-plant multiple relationship (soil physical, chemical and biological properties) and at the same time be improving the general agro-ecosystem productivity and sustainability (Jat et al., 2009). Precise application of water onto plant roots which could result to reduced water and energy cost, less disease pressure because the leaves remain dry and better weed control while soil erosion can be avoided (Palada et al., 2011). ...
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Agriculture accounts for 70% of all water withdrawals globally. Irrigated land is more than twice as productive as rainfed crop land. Water use in agriculture is at the core of any discussion of water and food security. The World Bank helps countries improve water management in agriculture to achieve Sustainable Development Goals on efficient use of water as well as on eliminating hunger. Currently, water use is unsustainable; water supplies are limited being affected by climate change. Much effort was made to reduce water use by crops and produce ‘more crop per drop’ (improving crop water productivity) and it can be led through improvements in agronomic practices by choosing well-adapted crop types, mulching, zero tillage/minimum tillage and reducing unproductive sinks viz., seepage, percolation and evaporation. It provided additional impetus for the researchers to solve the problems arising from the mismatch between demand and supply in terms of water quantity, quality and timing. Improving water productivity was identified as one of the global challenges that require urgent attention. Conservation agriculture enhances biodiversity and natural biological processes above and below the ground surface, which contribute to increased water and nutrient use efficiency. CA had an improved remarkable achievement in both sustained investment in agricultural research and development and farmer innovation.
... Reduction of plant diseases as a result of watering directly to the soil's roots was also observed in our study. Additional advantages of drip irrigation, among others, would include precise application of water onto plant roots which could result to reduced water and energy cost, less disease pressure because the leaves remain dry, and better weed control while soil erosion can be avoided (Palada et al. 2011). Further, the presence of mulch layers in conservation agriculture can reduce soil temperature, resulting in high accumulation of soil organic carbon (Thiombano and Meshack 2009;Silici 2010). ...
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The years of intensive tillage in Cambodia have caused significant decline in agriculture’s natural resources that could threaten its future of agricultural production and sustainability. Conventional tillage could cause rapid loss of soil organic matter, leading to a high potential for soil degradation and decline of environmental quality. Hence, a better and comprehensive process-based understanding of differential effects of tillage systems and crop management on crop yield is critically needed. A study was conducted in 10 farmer’s fields to evaluate the effect of conservation agriculture and conventional tillage on yield of selected crops and weeding activity in two villages of Siem Reap, Cambodia. The experiment was laid out following a 2 × 2 factorial treatment combination in randomized complete block design. Each treatment was replicated five times. Each farmer’s field was divided into four plots and was randomly assigned with production management and irrigation treatments, respectively. We demonstrated that our results supported the overall premises of conservation agriculture. Average yields of selected crops were significantly (≤ 0.001) improved in plots with conservation agriculture (17.1 ± 6.3 to 89.3 ± 40.2 Mg ha⁻¹) compared with conventional tillage (18.8 ± 6.4 to 63.8 ± 27.7 Mg ha⁻¹). Our results showed that manual weeding in all cropping seasons was significantly reduced by about 35% in conservation agriculture (169 ± 23 to 125 ± 18 man-day ha⁻¹), which can be attributed to existing cover crops and surface mulch. Overall, our results suggest that in smallholder commercial household farms, adoption of conservation agriculture had a profitable production management system, which could save natural resources, improve yield, and reduce labor. We proved for the first time that in Cambodian smallholder commercial household farms, adoption of conservation agriculture saves natural resources, improves yield, and reduces labor. Additional studies are encouraged to further test the conservation agriculture system for a longer period of time, with repeated cropping sequences.
... These are intended for small commercial farmers, not home gardens. The World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) has published a drip irrigation manual for simple drip irrigation for vegetables (Palada et al. 2011). Although developed for Asia, its detailed easy-to-follow illustrated step-by-step instructions for installation, use and maintenance are applicable elsewhere. ...
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Purpose This paper has been prepared for the Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Irrigation (ILSSI). ILSSI is a cooperative research project implemented through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in support of the Feed the Future (FtF) program. The project aims to increase food production, improve nutrition, accelerate economic development and contribute to the protection of the environment. A research partnership comprising the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and North Carolina A & T State University, led by the Texas A & M University System is collaborating with national partners to achieve the goals of ILSSI. The purpose of this paper is to synthesize available knowledge and lessons learned from past experiences in promoting kitchen or home gardens, with a special emphasis on water management. The paper has been prepared based on an extensive desk study. It focuses on gardens whose primary purpose is production of food and, at times, growing herbs and spices for home consumption. Home gardens defined in this manner are distinguished from market gardens. However, there is no firm differentiation: some home garden produce may be sold, while some market garden produce may be consumed by the household. Home gardens are an ancient and ubiquitous practice; most rural people have some kind of home garden. Home gardens tend to be characterized by the diversity of crops grown, recycling of nutrients including organic household wastes and grey water, and minimal use of purchased inputs. They are usually managed by women, often assisted by children. Home gardens do not exist in isolation: they are an integral component of larger agro-ecological, social, economic and cultural systems.
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Proper design and installation are essential to provide a drip irrigation system that can be managed with minimal inputs and maximum profit. Because drip irrigation can apply precise amounts of water and chemicals, constraints associated with the plants, soil, water supply, and management must be considered in the design, installation, and management processes.
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HS-1144, a 28-page illustrated fact sheet by Eric Simonne, Robert Hochmuth, Jacque Breman, William Lamont, Danielle Treadwell, and Aparna Gazula, presents the principles behind drip irrigation and some practical guidelines for successful and profitable use of drip irrigation for vegetable production in Florida. Includes references. Published by the UF Department of Horticultural Sciences, June 2008. HS1144/HS388: Drip-Irrigation Systems for Small Conventional Vegetable Farms and Organic Vegetable Farms (
Despite the impressive gains in global food production over the last half century, an estimated 790 million people remain hungry. Many of the chronically hungry are poor farm families, who have neither the means to produce the food they need nor sufficient income to purchase it. For them, access to irrigation writer, or the means to use the water they have more productively, is a key to increasing their crop production, their incomes, and their household food security. Ironically, a technology typically associated with wealthy farmers, drip irrigation, may hold the key to alleviating a significant share of rural hunger and poverty. A new spectrum of drip systems keyed to different income levels and farm sizes (beginning with a US$5 bucket kit for home gardens) now exists and can form the backbone of a second green revolution, this one aimed specifically at poor farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America. We describe the experience with affordable drip irrigation to date, including its growing use in India and Nepal, as well as the wide range of geographic areas and conditions where these systems may be useful. We propose a major new international initiative to spread low-cost drip irrigation through private microenterprise, with the aim of reducing the hunger and increasing the incomes of 150 million of the world's poorest rural people over the next 15 years. Our estimates suggest that such an initiative could boost annual net income among the rural poor by some US$3 billion per year and inject two or three times this amount into the poorest parts of the developing world's economies.
An evaluation of the suitability of representative agricultural drainage waters showed that many are suitable for irrigation of certain crops. The paper discusses various aspects of the investigations made to assess this suitability, including compositions of agricultural drainage waters, salinity hazard, sodicity hazards, toxicity hazards, and leaching requirement. It concludes that using these waters for irrigation could increase food production, lesses drainage disposal requirements, and improve land and water resource use efficiency.
The science of irrigation scheduling is well advanced, but the field application of this knowledge among irrigators is limited. Case studies are presented to show why irrigators may fail to adopt or persevere with traditional irrigation scheduling methods. This paper describes a funnel-shaped wetting front detector that is buried at an appropriate depth in the root zone. As a wetting front moves into the funnel of the detector, the water content increases due to convergence, so that the water content at the base of the funnel reaches saturation. The free water produced is detected electronically and this provides the signal to stop irrigation. Since the philosophy of drip irrigation in most cases is to supply water little and often, the "when to turn the water on" question becomes redundant and knowing when to turn the water off is more useful. Two further case studies demonstrate the benefits of scheduling micro-irrigation using wetting front detectors. The detectors retain a water sample from each irrigation event and this was used to monitor nitrate movement in and below the root zone.
Impacts of salinity become severe when the soil is deficient in oxygen. Oxygation (using aerated water for subsurface drip irrigation of crop) could minimize the impact of salinity on plants under oxygen-limiting soil environments. Pot experiments were conducted to evaluate the effects of oxygation (12% air volume/volume of water) on vegetable soybean (moderately salt tolerant) and cotton (salt tolerant) in a salinized vertisol at 2, 8, 14, 20 dS/m EC(e). In vegetable soybean, oxygation increased above ground biomass yield and water use efficiency (WUE) by 13% and 22%, respectively, compared with the control. Higher yield with oxygation was accompanied by greater plant height and stem diameter and reduced specific leaf area and leaf Na+ and Cl- concentrations. In cotton, oxygation increased lint yield and WUE by 18% and 16%, respectively, compared with the control, and was accompanied by greater canopy light interception, plant height and stem diameter. Oxygation also led to a greater rate of photosynthesis, higher relative water content in the leaf, reduced crop water stress index and lower leaf water potential. It did not, however, affect leaf Na+ or Cl- concentration. Oxygation invariably increased, whereas salinity reduced the K+ : Na+ ratio in the leaves of both species. Oxygation improved yield and WUE performance of salt tolerant and moderately tolerant crops under saline soil environments, and this may have a significant impact for irrigated agriculture where saline soils pose constraints to crop production.
Water quality for agriculture. FAO Irrigation and Drainage Water. Rev. 1. Food and Agriculture Organization
  • R S Ayers
  • D W Westcott
Ayers, R.S. and D.W. Westcott. 1985. Water quality for agriculture. FAO Irrigation and Drainage Water. Rev. 1. Food and Agriculture Organization, The United Nations, Rome, Italy.