Precision Irrigation of Potatoes, the Solution of the Future

Using drip irrigation on a crop of potatoes offers an alternative solution for French farmers facing water restrictions in the future and unpredictable weather conditions. Why such a paradigm shift, given the preponderance of pivots and reels in potato irrigation? Because we have to solve an essential equation: ensure constant yields in an increasingly difficult climatic context, while limiting inputs to meet economic and ecological constraints. We need to do more, with less.

 

In the face of climate change and the increasing scarcity of water, drip irrigation constitutes a sustainable approach for the potato crop. This system optimises the distribution of water, ensuring that the crops receive the necessary water requirements even during the dry periods. At a time when France is experiencing increasingly erratic weather patterns, the adaptability of drip irrigation has become crucial. It allows the farmers to maintain constant yields by mitigating the impact of the droughts and extreme temperatures on the potato crops.

In addition, the precision of drip irrigation allows better control of the soil moisture content, thus avoiding  waterlogging – a recurring problem with traditional irrigation. This not only improves the quality of the potatoes, but also minimises the risk of diseases linked to excess water. Farmers can customise the irrigation programme to suit the specific requirements of potatoes at different stages of growth, resulting in healthier plants and higher yields.

In anticipation of the impending water restrictions to be imposed in France, drip irrigation has emerged as a strategic ally for farmers looking to comply with the regulations while maintaining agricultural productivity. Its targeted water supply minimises excessive use, thus achieving conservation objectives. By adopting drip irrigation, farmers can demonstrate their commitment to responsible water management, potentially earning incentives and credits for regulatory compliance.

Over the last two years, Netafim, leader in precision irrigation,  has been conducting a demonstration trial in the Haut de France region, comparing drip irrigation with the traditional irrigation method and the results are compelling.  Of course, the yield increase is more noticeable in the drier hotter years, such as 2022, where the drip solution produced a yield increase of 23% with 20% less water use (Sprinkler gun 47 t/ha with 237 mm compared with drip irrigation 58 t/ha with 193 mm), and also during the wet years, such as 2023, when the yield was 4% higher but with 23% less water used (Sprinkler gun 53 t/ha with 123 mm compared with drip irrigation 55 t/ha with 95 mm).

Furthermore, the latest drip irrigation technology allows for the efficient use of fertilisers and other inputs. By targeting the root zone directly, the nutrients are applied precisely to the place where they are required, thus reducing the risk of

over-fertilising and the related environmental consequences. This not only corresponds to better modern farming methods, but it also enhances the economic viability of the potato crop by optimising the cost of inputs, as shown in the trials, with a reduction of 20% in 2022 and 30% in 2023!

Moreover, the economic advantages of drip irrigation are quite remarkable. Even though the initial installation cost can be a challenge, the long-term gains are substantial. The reduction in water consumption, fertilizers and energy use means a drop in operating costs and an increase in the yield and quality of the potatoes helps to enhance the market value. Very quickly, the return on investment becomes obvious, placing drip irrigation as a financially viable and sustainable choice for the potato producers.

One of the obstacles to the adoption of drip irrigation remains the mechanization and installation of the system, which still seems complicated to many. However, the launch of innovations such as FlexNet, a flexible boom carrier developed by Netafim, and the availability of new, more agile and higher-capacity machines for installation and recovery, have simplified and solved the problem! This is all the more true given that the demand for manpower in drip systems is fixed, plannable and unaffected by the amount of irrigation during the season, unlike other systems, which can require a colossal level of manpower in the event of drought. Since any irrigation event can be scheduled in advance or remotely, the drip irrigation system requires no manpower for deployment, allowing growers to concentrate on other tasks or hobbies, even at key times of the summer.

In conclusion, the move towards drip irrigation in potato crops not only represents a response to the impending water restrictions facing French farmers, but also places the technique at the forefront of sustainable agriculture. This method optimizes water use, improves the crop’s resilience to climate change and falls in line with the need for responsible resource management. As France steers a path into a future threatened with climatic uncertainties and regulatory constraints, drip irrigation presents itself as a model of efficiency and sustainability for this vital crop.

 

 

Author : Netafim

 

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