Paulo Dantas of AgroDan farms 1,300 ha of mango trees of the Kent, Keitt, Tommy and Palmer varieties, all with drip irrigation. And the results are outstanding. Whereas Brazil’s average yield is 22 tonnes per hectare, AgroDan achieves close to 45 tonnes. Sugar cane grower Usina Coruripe also reports very substantial production gains and improvements in irrigation efficiency.
Everybody already knows that sustainability is — or will soon be — a deal breaker in selling agricultural produce. However, in order to achieve that goal some technologies are economically viable and others are not.
Drip irrigation efficiency, for example, is well known for its use on small plots where it requires an investment in infrastructure, but is it also profitable for large areas? Brazil is a good place to check this out. There are many large farms located in dry regions. Some Brazilian producers have already adopted drip irrigation systems which could be examined to prove their feasibility.
A good example is fruits, in the driest region of Brazil to be precise: Sertão. AgroDan, which is the largest Brazilian producer of ‘premium’ mangoes, is located in the states of Bahia and Pernambuco. Currently, they have 1,300 ha of Kent, Keitt, Tommy and Palmer varieties, all treated with drip irrigation. And the results are outstanding. While the Brazilian average productivity is 22 tonnes per ha, they achieve close to 45 tonnes.
Drip techniques generally save 25 to 50% of water compared to other irrigation systems, and they increase productivity by 100% compared to rainfed plantations
“Mangoes are not produced with sprinkler or pivot systems. But drip techniques generally save 25 to 50% of water compared to other irrigation systems, and they increase productivity by 100% compared to rainfed plantations.” says Maryana Damasceno. According to her, growing in a sustainable way, respecting the environment, is a core value at AgroDan.
And drip irrigation has been a global trend which makes it possible to produce more with less resources such as water and fertilizers. “We always aim to work with the latest technologies and techniques to produce the best mangoes. For this reason, we are used to wait until the third harvest, 6 to 7 years later, for a return on our investment,” she tells us.
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Usina Coruripe is a traditional sugar cane and biofuel producer in Alagoas state. They farm 31,000 ha and use several irrigation systems over 84% of this area; over 8% (around 2,600 ha) receives drip irrigation. According to Sandra Silva, irrigation coordinator of Usina Coruripe, smart use of water results in better soil preparation, cultivation, longevity of the cane field and productivity.
The average of the last four harvests shows 32.95% more tonnes per hectare in the irrigated areas compared to rainfed areas. Last season, this figure rose to 54.11%. Compared to other irrigation systems, the largest gain was achieved by drip irrigation, varying between 25% and 47% in drier years.
“Furthermore, water savings from using drip irrigation compared to pivot and conventional sprinkling are due to increased efficiency: 95%, 85% and 75%, respectively,” Silva explains.
She argues that the need for irrigation is undeniable, especially in the dry seasons of Brazilian Northeast. There’s no way a farmer can survive such climatic adversity without adding water. “There are further advantages, too. It is possible to advance approximately 1,000 hectares in the dry season, reinvigorating the cane field, which directly influences productivity,” Silva says.
The payback of drip systems comes after 3.5 to 4.5 years
Sustainability is a motivating policy for Usina Coruripe, which employs 9,800 workers and achieves annual revenues of up to US$ 550 million (€ 500 milion). That´s why investments are high for irrigation improvements in order to produce sugar, ethanol and energy. “The payback of drip systems comes after 3.5 to 4.5 years. Our mission is to produce safely and sustainably, generating value for shareholders, employees, partners and society,” Silva comments.
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The next step in drip irrigation technology for both Usina Coruripe and AgroDan is a system offered by Netafim and Amanco in Brazil. The NetBeat sensor system is capable of detecting, reading and recording a series of parameters. This information can be quickly translated by people or computers, delivering greater convenience and precision in irrigation.
“On a single screen, the farmer has access to climate information, weather forecast, soil and plant conditions, current irrigation programmes, an activity calendar and technical recommendations. He can programme any irrigation or plant feeding process in just a few steps,” explains digital farming manager at Netafim/Amanco, Bruno Toniello.
These functionalities are possible thanks to sensors that capture information in real time, which is processed and analysed to offer recommendations, in addition to automatisation that makes it possible to control everything through a program installed on desktops, smartphones or tablets.
“NetBeat was developed to deliver greater convenience, but not only that. The goal is that the farmer – based on data and artificial intelligence – can be more effective in decision making, generating more profitability, productivity and better management of available resources,” says Toniello.
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Others farms have already adopted the new smart NetBeat system and, due to better controls and more precision, have realised even better results in small areas. That is the case with Fazenda Regina and Fazenda Kitanda.
Fazenda Regina, in Salto Grande, São Paulo state, crops 39 hectares of corn with drip irrigation and produces 220 sacks per ha, consuming an average of 3.06 mm of water for each bag delivered. Before NetBeat, that same area used to produce 110 sacks/ha, consuming 6.3 mm per bag. Thus, there was a 100% increase in productivity with only half of the water used by the drip system compared to traditional irrigation.
Fazenda Kitanda, in Guaratinga, Bahia state, farms 150 hectares of conilon coffee. With the NetBeat system it produces 127 sacks per ha, using 13 mm of water for each bag. Previously, the productivity was 40 sacks per ha with a water consumption of 33 mm. In other words, 317% more production and 60% less water.