Aquacheck at work. The device can tell farmers when to irrigate crops. Photo courtesy.
While farmers are adopting irrigation for crop production on dry spells, a study has established that unmonitored water may lead to loss of more than half of the nutrients through leaching.
A research by the Crop Nutrition Services Limited found that farmers lose up to 60 per cent of nutrients to the lower soil regions where crop roots my not reach. This leads to low productivity as the crops remain stunted as well as failure to meet the nutrients required for various functions like flowering.
“In irrigation of 16m3 per acre in one day, there was evidence of strong nutrient leaching in all sites with nitrates and calcium being the most lost at 60cm and 90cm depth,” the study revealed.
Crop Nutrition Agronomist Emmanuel Kibet said ‘blind irrigation’ does not give farmers value for their money.
Aquacheck-soil moisture probe is an irrigation system that allows farmers to manage their irrigation efficiently, it measures moisture up to six depths and even beyond (has sensors at each 10cm depth).
This allows the farmer to know the moisture levels all the way down the rooting depth thus allowing them to decide when it is right time to irrigate and what amounts of water to irrigate. Different soil types have different properties and holds different amount of water, he said.
“Leaching lead to loses of nutrient before utilisation by the crop. A farmer will be tempted to increase the frequency of fertiliser application when they notice the health of the crop is diminishing. With accurate data on how much water is available in the soil for the crop, a farmer can regulate the irrigation frequency for optimum results,” he said.
Reducing the irrigation –when not necessary from the available data- intervals decreases pumping, labour, and water bill costs.
Mr Kibet is working with farmers in Kiambu County, soil moisture sensors are being used to determine the amount of water required for the crops to do well.
The sensor, also known as Aquacheck, is installed in the soil where it keeps track of the amount of available water moisture against soil particles at a two hour interval.
The data is sent to a computer or a smart phone, where it is presented in graphs. The trained farmer interprets the results for action, the agronomist said.
If the water is sufficient, one can skip irrigation until there is need.
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For one piece sufficiently monitors a maximum area of up to three acres. It can also be used in greenhouses.
Although the initial cost may be high for most small-scale farmers, Mr Kibet said the accumulated saving from the irrigation and leaching are worth investment.
With the statistics, it means that excess irrigation can drain 30kg out of 50kg applied on a given piece of land.
Kibet can be reached on +254720646976
Crop Nutrition office: +254 736 839933, + 254 720 639933