Preserving the world’s most popular beverage with precision irrigation

Ricardo Almeida Head of GBU Mercosur, Netafim
A coffee plantation in Brazil. - Photo: Netafim
A coffee plantation in Brazil. - Photo: Netafim

Precision irrigation offers growers stability and control in the face of an increasingly unpredictable climate and can sustain coffee farmers for years to come.

In nearly every major coffee-producing country, climate change is threatening the longevity of crop production and recent research supports these claims – as global temperatures rise, the areas where we can successfully grow and harvest coffee beans are both shifting and shrinking.

As the world’s largest exporter of coffee, Brazil is a key example and last year it was struck by not only the worst drought in a century, but also an unexpected late frost. Both occurrences are the result of global climate change, and they limited output and stressed crops so badly that its impact has raised fears for upcoming seasons. However, modern agtech now makes it possible for farmers to protect their crops from extreme weather.

Precision Irrigation provides a sustainable solution

In Brazil, only 10% of agricultural land is irrigated, yet some progressive farmers have begun to move beyond traditional rain-fed irrigation to more modern techniques that don’t rely on rain, one of which is precision irrigation.

In fact, around 20% (400.000 ha of 2 M ha) of Brazil’s coffee growers use drip irrigation, giving their plants the exact amounts of water and nutrients required. And they’re reaping both the economic and environmental benefits, from increasing the volume and quality of yields, to reducing the amount of fertilizer needed, the cost of which is now at an all-time high.

Also read: Precision drip irrigation gives Brazilian coffee extra flavour

A case in point from close by, Jayme Santos Miranda in Minas Gerais state Brazil has been growing 400 hectares of coffee and relied solely on rain until they started to install our drip irrigation system aiming to alleviate the damage caused by the lack of rain and high temperatures. The uniformity of the crop and the ease of handling water and nutrients (fertigation) were fundamental for significantly increasing the coffee yield by 50%.

Growing more with less tackles more global challenges

The ethos of precision irrigation is to grow more with less, which is becoming even more necessary in the face of two other global issues: land and water scarcity. According to the UN, today nearly 40% of the Earth’s land is already being utilized by agriculture, or roughly the size of South America. So clearing more land isn’t an option. And 70% of freshwater on the planet is currently used for agriculture. Growers need to increase their water usage efficiency and precision irrigation enables them to do this by more than 50%.

Adoption of drip irrigation amongst Brazil’s coffee farmers ideally needs to rise from its current level of 20% to around 50%

Providing coffee growers with peace of mind

Precision irrigation offers growers stability and control in the face of an increasingly unpredictable climate. It allows farmers to grow coffee in their defined season, giving them the water and nutrients required to support cultivation no matter what the weather, conserving resources and cutting down on fertilizer. The result is a stabilized revenue stream for farmers and businesses that are secure for the long-term.

In order to mitigate the effects of last year’s severe drought on the country’s coffee supply, adoption of drip irrigation amongst Brazil’s coffee farmers ideally needs to rise from its current level of 20% to around 50%. If this happens, supplies can continue at current levels for at least the next 20-30 years.

Progressive perspectives are critical to sustaining livelihoods

The statistics on climate change are harrowing, and for farmers, the swings of extreme weather can mean that livelihoods are wiped out in the course of a single storm. In the face of this frightening new reality, drip irrigation offers farmers a way forward.

By shifting mindsets and merging technology with age-old agricultural practices , we can adapt and evolve to meet these new challenges rather than acquiesce to them. Ultimately, the adoption of innovation is the only surefire way to secure the livelihoods of coffee farmers, and growers of many other crops, for generations to come.

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