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When less means more: Drip Irrigation and the future of SA Agriculture

11 Mar 2015

Despite some clear challenges, the future of agriculture in South Africa looks bright.  Those challenges include an increasing water deficit and the fact that only about 12 – 13% of land is arable.  Decreasing soil fertility, increasing soil salinity, climate change – not to mention the ever-looming spectre of recurring droughts – would paint a bleak picture if it wasn’t for the fact that South Africa has, for decades, proactively engaged in pioneering innovative, technologically advanced farming techniques. 

How we're improving our farming methods

Commercial farmers, though small in number, have to provide food security to an ever-burgeoning population.  As the scarcity – and therefore the cost – of water increases, farmers have had to apply ever-greater ingenuity and skill to ensure their agricultural systems remain productive and sustainable.  Their strategies have included:

  • the use of soil sampling and chemical analysis to ensure that fertilization will yield good results without damaging the environment
  • minimum-till or even no-till farming techniques to prevent soil erosion and maintain the organic richness of top soil 
  • GPS-based soil-profiling – targeting different soil areas for optimum fertilisation and planting
  • reducing reliance on chemical pesticides and herbicides and encouraging biodiversity
  • creating a healthier soil by limiting the amount of chemical run off – knowing that healthy soil is better able to retain water
  • developing farming practices that are more in harmony with nature
  • engendering a more holistic approach to farm management across all systems, including providing work to surrounding areas, continually upskilling workers in new methods, and caring for the wellbeing of these communities.

But the biggest solution of all has been the application of the revolutionary drip irrigation system – a technique that saves our precious water, enriches plant life and ensures sustainability of food production.

The Pipe Dream

With a world population of over 7 billion and a diminishing supply of water worldwide, the global need to find an answer has always been paramount in agricultural industries.  But the key has been with us for quite some time.

In the early 1930s, Israeli engineer and inventor, Simcha Blass, discovered that slow, balanced drips of water had a remarkably beneficial effect on plant growth.  Building on this discovery, Netafim's initial production facility – the first of its kind worldwide – was established in 1965.  Their technique, developed and perfected over decades, provides a happy marriage between water conservation and higher crop yield with minimum environmental damage.  Drip irrigation consists of a pipe either above or below ground which allows droplets of water to drip into the plant system in a continual and controlled process.  Sub-surface dripperlines are located at a depth dependent on the root zone of the crop and the characteristics of the soil.

The beauty of the drip technique

  • it works with nature, heals ravaged landscapes and can make the desert bloom – vital qualities in a country as dry as South Africa
  • sub-surface irrigation has the capability to apply the exact required amounts of irrigation water directly to the plant roots
  • fertilizers can be added to the water supply and released with precision to the plant roots
  • the delivery of low fertilizer rates over extended periods of time, has the double benefit of both increased nutrient efficiency and lower costs for every unit harvested
  • the concomitant identification and development of tools and techniques has enabled the agricultural industry to vastly increase the output of irrigated crops while reducing the amount of water required
  • reduced costs for water, labour and chemicals
  • less water lost due to surface evaporation
  • reduced weed growth, herbicide washout
  • less maintenance, injury and vandalism often found with conventional water usage.

Netafim is the global leader in smart drip and micro-irrigation solutions for a sustainable future.  Celebrating 50 years in driving innovation and field-proven success in agricultural irrigation worldwide, they are proud of a track record that has contributed directly to the critical need for water conservation and a more food-secure world.

Despite obstacles, South Africa is maintaining a robust agricultural sector which is an important contributor to our economy.  Creating ‘more with less’ is the success recipe for any production endeavour.  Together with ongoing research, science, technology, innovation and extraordinary vision, the agricultural industry shows positive prospects for feeding our nation both now and into the future.

Find out more about drip irrigation at Netafim.

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