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Six Times Higher Yields: Pipelife's Precision Irrigation Field Trial in Romania Confirms Impressive Results
April 26, 2023
6 min read
On the scene of European food farming, Romania holds immense potential. The country has a total agricultural area of 14.7 million hectares, and it's one of Europe's largest producers of maize and wheat. However, climate change has brought a harsh challenge to Romanian farmers. While the amount of annual precipitation in many farming regions historically has been low, now the droughts are becoming longer and more frequent, increasing the risks of crop failure. Last year, Pipelife started a field trial at a corn field in Dumbrava, highlighting how precision irrigation helps secure yields even under extreme climate conditions.
Protecting Crops Amidst Climate Change
The farming season of 2022 was particularly difficult in Romania, as the country registered its lowest corn production in 15 years. Corn, one of Romania's major exports, is highly heat-sensitive, and the extensive heat waves and low precipitation of last summer had a devastating effect. On non-irrigated fields, the yields dropped to merely 40-50% of the 5-6 tons/ha harvested in an average year.
Building and further expanding irrigation systems throughout the country are necessary preconditions to unlock Romania's full agricultural potential. Up to now, irrigation has been widespread mainly in the southern regions; in the rest of the country, irrigation systems are used sparsely and often are aged and inefficient.
"When we talk with the local farmers about irrigation, we observe different reactions," comments Dusan Jankovic, Irrigation Business Development Manager at Pipelife. "Vegetable and fruit producers tend to be more open because they often know other farms already using irrigation systems. Grain and maize producers can be more skeptical because, in many regions, they historically didn't need irrigation. They want to believe that there have been a few bad years, but it will get better. Therefore, being able to demonstrate the results of irrigation in practice is very important."
Putting Precision Irrigation into Action
In 2022, Pipelife started a precision irrigation field trial at "Dumbrava Agro Nik", a 30-hectare farm specializing in maize production. The owner, Craciun Nicolae Claudiu, was interested in installing an irrigation system on a 10-hectare field to see to what extent it could help protect his crops from droughts and temperature extremes.
Among the many irrigation solutions available, Craciun opted for Pipelife's one-stop-shop and full-service approach. After discussing the specific conditions of his land and local climate, the crop variety, the available water sources and the application of fertilizers, Pipelife's team took care of every step, from a tailored system design to installation, startup, training and maintenance service.
"Even though the products themselves were new to me, Pipelife's representatives earned my full trust that this is the right solution for my field conditions," Craciun recalls.
Together with the farmer, a drip irrigation system with a flow rate of 1.6 L/h and a 30-cm distance between the drippers was selected. The drip tape was laid in every second row of the field, and a self-cleaning disc filter was installed to catch any dirt or soil particles that might cause clogging. In total, ~72,000 meters of drip tape and 240,000 drippers were used to complete the system for the 10-hectare irrigation area. A similar cornfield nearby was left non-irrigated, allowing for a direct comparison of yields.
Efficient Irrigation System Setup Ensures Excellent Yields
When it comes to corn farming, nothing can be left to chance, and precise installation timing is crucial for a successful irrigation season. The installation has to be carried out during the early growth stages, ensuring that the corn will have enough time to develop. When the plants have 6-8 leaves, the drip tapes have to be laid on the ground, installed and immediately operated.
Due to all deliveries and installation processes overseen by one supplier, setting up the irrigation system at "Dumbrava Agro Nik" took only three days. Afterward, the corn was watered every eight days for a total period of two months.
"Throughout the season, the irrigation system worked as expected, and its maintenance was simple and hassle-free," Craciun sums up. "After harvesting, not only me but my neighbors too were impressed by the yields."
Despite some challenges, such as delayed and too-deep sowing, a hybrid of late corn, and extreme heat waves, the field study results were impressive. The irrigated field brought yields of 12–14 tons/ha, compared to 2–3 tons/ha from the nearby non-irrigated field. In other words, yields of 4-6 times above the average quantities were achieved. Dusan Jankovic confirms that such harvests are not surprising.
"The drip irrigation system selected for the corn field in Dumbrava was relatively simple, but we can see that the results are very good. If done right, even simpler irrigation systems bring excellent yields. And we work individually with each farmer to ensure that the best solution for their unique needs is designed, set up and functions optimally throughout the season."
Precision Irrigation Goes Mainstream
This year, the irrigation system at "Dumbrava Agro Nik" will be expanded to 20 hectares, putting 145,000 meters of drip lines and more than 362,000 drippers to work. A lower flow rate of 1L/s and a 40-centimeter distance between the drippers will be used.
Konstantinos Akritanakis, R&D Project Manager at Pipelife, comments on the solution selected:
"We have observed that the farmers who are already familiar with drip irrigation trust us and are interested in trying lower flow rates than traditionally used. By lowering the flow rate, we can achieve even higher precision and use less water. However, the key benefit to farmers is reduced system costs due to longer lines and fewer connections."
Furthermore, the news of the successful corn harvest in Dumbrava has reached far and wide. Ionut Mocanu, Irrigation Manager at Pipelife Romania, affirms that the interest in precision irrigation is currently on the rise — propelled not only by growing awareness among Romanian farmers but also by increased funding opportunities from the EU expected to become available this summer.
"This season, we have irrigation projects in Romania covering more than 500 hectares of farmland," Mocanu states. "And many of the farmers we are working with already have plans to expand their irrigation systems further next year."