By opting for drip irrigation, cotton farmers can save water and reap profits

By C K Patel, AGM – Agronomy & Marketing, Netafim India

If we look at the big picture, there is reason to feel proud as India continues to be the largest producer of cotton in the world, with China, the US, Brazil and Pakistan snapping at our heels. The country has brought about a qualitative and quantitative transformation in the production of cotton since Independence. India is also the only country in the world that grows not only the four cultivated species of cotton but also their intra-and-inter-specific hybrids on a commercial scale. The cotton farmer community of the country produces the widest range of cotton capable of spinning from 20 mm to 32 mm staple length counts. Government policies such as giving greater thrust to Research and Development in cotton, encouraging the use of quality seeds and pesticides by providing subsidies for such inputs and price support measures have also contributed to the changing scenario of cotton farming in India.

But the devil is in the details, as they say. Despite having the largest area under cotton cultivation which is about 41% of the world area under cotton farming and accounting for 26% of the world cotton production, the yield per hectare is still lower than the world average yield. The cotton productivity per hectare in our country is as low as 487 kg, which indicates higher land usage and, consequently, lower yields along with scant income for the cotton farmers. What is more, the ever-spiralling cost of labour, persistent adoption of unsustainable agricultural practices, extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides as well as genetic modification has posed a significant challenge that needs immediate attention. Given that cotton is a water-intensive crop, the cost of production makes farming nearly unviable, especially for the marginal farmers. Is there no way out for our farmers then to boost cultivation and dominate the cotton export scene? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

Drip irrigation, the practical solution to Increase cotton yield and lint quality

Embracing scientific methods is the way to profitability, say experts quoting experiments both within the country and abroad. More specifically, they point to drip irrigation as an ideal method well-suited for cotton cultivation. It saves water and electricity and cuts down on the amount of fertilizer required. Drip irrigation supplies water to the cotton crop root and not to the canopy. Thus, keeps the humidity level unaffected. This is significant when the first-floor bolls open. Lower the humidity conditions, better is the lint quality. The application of measured water dosage also helps to control and create flexibility to develop mild stress during specific growth periods. This helps cultivating an ideal plant with several bolls.

It has been established that when a farmer opts for micro-irrigation, there is a reduction in pest and crop diseases.  Fusarium wilt and Verticullum wilt are the major soil borne diseases affecting the cotton growth area. Accurate Application of Fungicides directly to the root zone, prevents these diseases.

The list of advantages does not end there either. It is possible to do drip irrigation at night and even on uneven land. There is a reduced need for weeding and no significant soil damage as a result of salt deposits. In short, farmers need to adopt this smart way instead of simply toiling away without achieving optimum production from their lands.