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Drip Irrigation in Citrus

Citrus producers in South Africa use drip irrigation extensively to irrigate and nutrigateTM(application of nutrients through irrigation system) their trees. Of all tree crops, drip irrigation has been the most widely accepted method of irrigation when compared to other methods of micro irrigation on tree crops. Citrus producers, researchers and advisors led the way to investigate new thoughts on irrigation and nutrition introduced many years ago by the Spaniard, Prof Martinez. It changed our way of thinking with regard to nutritional balances and water availability in the soil. Drip irrigation and the application of fertilizers through the irrigation system opens new possibilities for fruit tree growing because it provides means for controlling a few major processes such as water and mineral availability and uptake, as well as root activity. With the introduction of this new technology many success stories were written and adaption made to our own unique South African circumstances. Yes, there have been some failures but in general the industry has moved forward to a higher and more efficient level of production. Even the micro sprayer irrigation industry has gained through the development of new technologies and products. Against this background we must reiterate the fact that the correct use of drip irrigation systems on citrus crops requires different approaches than those used in conventional irrigation systems. The introduction of localized irrigation methods (drip and micro sprinklers) have proved that some of the principles commonly applied to conventional irrigation methods do not necessarily apply to micro irrigation.

These differences include:

  • uneven distribution of water and its relationship to water availability
  • a relationship between water availability and soil aeration
  • uneven distribution of minerals
  • uneven distribution of roots and physiological effects of root restriction.

In order to succeed with drip:

  • it is essential to fertilize through the system
  • think in terms of concentrations rather than amounts of fertilizer application
  • irrigate at frequent intervals according to scheduling principles
  • adopt the correct type of emitters and spacing to soil type and topography
  • control the irrigation depth
  • and control the vegetative growth and adjust it to the crop level at various stages of fruit development.

The use of drip irrigation in orchards is increasing worldwide. Water shortage and the need for improved production are the main reasons for this increase. The combination of partial wetting of the soil and thereby limiting evaporation losses and control of the water penetration depth considerably increases the efficiency of irrigation. Because water and mineral uptake is a function of soil matric potential and mineral concentration, respectively, optimal uptake rates by certain portions of the root system always exist along these gradients for any given environmental conditions. If managed correctly, the entire root system functions more efficiently compared to root systems under conventional irrigation methods.

The possible advantageous that can be gained by the correct use of drip irrigation when compared to other irrigation systems are numerous:

  • highest production per unit of water used
  • lowest energy or electricity output per unit fruit produced
  • lowest maintenance - highest fertilizer use efficiency
  • improved harvest index because of faster growth

Netafim leads the world when it comes to drip technology with the biggest dripper flow path dimensions which means the most reliable drippers. Water treatment and filtration technology has improved, and clogging of drip systems now can be minimized, which also increases the suitable range of water quality for use in drip systems.

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