Drip irrigation - Changing the Way Rice is Grown Sustainably in Turkey

Drip irrigation - Changing the Way Rice is Grown Sustainably in Turkey

Turkey has 28 million hectares of arable land, of which only 33% has access to water for irrigation. Agriculture is heavily dependent on irrigation and consumes about two thirds of available water resources. Uneven distribution of water resources, fragmented land, adverse climate conditions, sub-optimal irrigation and agricultural practices further add to the challenge. The introduction of efficient irrigation technologies for increasing agricultural productivity remains a priority for Turkey.

Rice is an important cereal in Turkey and Thrace, the Central North and Central Black Sea are the major rice growing areas.  Over the past few years due to shortage of irrigation water and instability of market prices, there has been a reduction in the rice area and in rice production in Turkey. To meet the domestic demand, Turkey imports rice every year. Turkey's climate and the soil structure in many regions is suitable for rice cultivation so if the irrigated area is increased, the rice cultivating area can be increased as well. The rice production challenges in Turkey are increasing yield per unit area, expanding the area under rice cultivation, and reaching self-sufficiency to reduce rice imports as much as possible. Utilizing slopes into rice fields can help maximize and optimize land and production capacities.

Why is drip irrigation superior to paddy irrigation for growing rice in sloping land?

With drip irrigation, farmers can grow high quality yield using 70% less water and avoid unnecessary surface runoff and soil erosion due to paddy irrigation. It is also economically sustainable because unlike paddy irrigation, drip irrigation does not require complicated land preparation or heavy investment in machinery or labor.

Drip Irrigation offers vast potential for high quality yield and water savings in Turkey

To address these challenges, Netafim partnered with farmers in the Gönen region to conduct trials over a period of five years (2015-2019) to examine the economic and agronomic feasibility of expanding rice growing to sloppy areas with drip irrigation. Currently, around 50 farmers use drip irrigation, and the number is increasing as farmers are very happy with high quality yield and cost savings.

As part of the rice trials, Netafim provided training, agronomic support and also installed the  drip irrigation systems. The results have been very successful in proving that  water-smart technologies like drip irrigation can help build out Turkey’s sustainable rice production, increase the total acreage of rice production, and also reduce labor and costs.

High yield, every season

With rice cultivation, it’s critical to get the timing of the soil preparation right. If the timing is wrong, it can create soil compaction, which can lead to poor aeration, water logging, excessive runoff and erosion and poor yield. Drip irrigation can address all these problems by delivering the right amount of water and nutrients in a balanced way to ensure optimal growing conditions.  It also makes weed control easier and leads to better quality crops. Most importantly, farmers are now able to grow and harvest a second crop in the same season, which can double their annual income.

Simple, less labor-intensive and cost-effective

Traditional paddy irrigation requires a much higher labor input, accurate land leveling and regular maintenance. In comparison, drip irrigation is preferred to surface irrigation on steeper or unevenly sloping lands as it requires little or no land levelling or land preparation thus preventing problems such as surface runoff and loss of water. It eliminates the need for using heavy machinery making systems operation and maintenance less labor and cost-intensive.

Huge water savings and energy efficient

With drip irrigation farmers have been able to save almost 65-70% of their water usage. In surface irrigation methods, only 30-45% of water reaches the crops, whereas drip irrigation delivers water and nutrients from the source directly to the root zone, thus reducing conveyance and distribution losses and improving water and energy efficiency. Every plant gets precisely the amount of water and nutrients it needs to thrive. The precise application of water and moderate flow rates result in huge water savings and energy savings.

Environmentally -friendly, sustainable

Unlike paddy cultivation, with drip irrigation, the soil is not left submerged under water continuously thus allowing the beneficial fauna in the soil to thrive and allowing for different crops to be grown right after rice is harvested.

The environmental benefits of this irrigation method are clear and substantial: reduced water use, fewer emissions of methane gas associated with flood irrigation, reduction of arsenic accumulation in rice, efficient use of fertilizers and a reduction in the leaching of fertilizers.

This makes perfect financial sense for rice farmers, isn’t it?

As the demand for rice grows, and more farmers look to expand the area under rice cultivation, drip irrigation seems to the perfect solution. After a series of successful trials over the past five years, Netafim has been able to bring  ~400ha of commercial rice fields under drip irrigation. Farmers are thrilled with the results and we believe that next year, the rice area under drip irrigation will more than double in coverage.

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