LEPA irrigation with Agrico: Onion farmer finds multiple benefits

Bianca Henning – ProAgri

Innovation is more important than ever before in modern agriculture. The industry as a whole is facing huge challenges, from rising input costs, and a shortage of labour, to changes in consumer preferences for transparency and sustainability.

Andries Groothof, the third-generation farmer of Adaja Boerdery, near Settlers in Limpopo firmly believes that blooming where you are planted is the key to his farming success. He farms with onions, seed maize, sugar beans and cattle, for which he irrigates approximately 200 hectares.

LEPA uses less water and increases yields

After a crisis with an irrigation pump on the farm, Andries had to think of an alternative to save his onion sprouts. He approached his Agrico representative, Theo van Staden from Nylstroom, who advised him to install the LEPA irrigation system for his crops.

Low energy precision application (LEPA) is a modification to the typical sprinkler configuration on centre pivots or linear machines that minimises evaporation and wind drift losses by placing the water directly onto the soil surface at very low pressure. LEPA places water right at the root zone, greatly reducing evaporation caused by strong winds and high temperatures. The LEPA sprinklers operate at a low pressure which also saves energy
during the water application process.

Researchers and growers have found that with LEPA at least 20 percent more water reaches the soil compared to conventional spray nozzles. LEPA bubblers operate at low pressures ranging from 0,41 bar (6 psi) to 0,07 bar (10 psi).
LEPA gently delivers water 300 to 1 000 millimeters above the ground to avoid wind drift and prevent evaporation loss.

“Efficiency of application is what’s very important to our operation,” says Andries. “Before LEPA, you could see the wind drift on most of the pivots. I was even getting run-off on the outer spans of some machines. Now I achieve a more uniform root zone coverage, increasing my yield and using less water.”

LEPA bubblers not only get more water into the soil, but also help flush the salts deeper. “A deeper source of available
water encourages new young seedlings to germinate earlier,” Andries adds.

The LEPA bubblers are ideal for both high- and low-profile crops. “The ground beneath the LEPA bubblers seemed softer,” Andries says. “If you put your hands into the soil, you can feel the moisture; water penetration is deeper beneath the bubblers and the soil compaction was less.”

Andries expands on the benefits he has experienced with LEPA irrigation

Higher yield

“All fields have shown an increase in yields as well as being uniform and consistent across the entire field.”

Water savings

“LEPA bubble systems are very good at getting water into the soil profile. With the clay soil conditions on the farm, it was evident that the LEPA bubblers did not form mist like the other pivots with traditional sprinklers. We save about thirty percent on water and energy. In the heat of the summer, during harvesting season, it is evident that we are getting the right amount of water to the crop.”

Less maintenance

“The overall maintenance of the sprayers is easy. Sometimes I experience a blockage of the nozzles. It is fairly easy to identify and to solve any problems that may occur.”

“The Agrico team closest to Andries is situated in Nylstroom. Theo van Staden from the Agrico branch in Nylstroom is always available whenever Andries needs him. In the fifteen years that I have been a client of Agrico, I have never experienced bad service from the Agrico team. It is a young, dynamic team who are always willing to help. With the quick and accurate service and assistance they provide, they enable me to make better management decisions for my farm,” Andries says.

Over the past three years, Agrico upgraded 570 pivot towers in the Limpopo area with LEPA sprayers, of which more than 50% of the pivots are used for the cultivation of potatoes.

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