Pineapples live the sweet life with Agrico irrigation project

–  Maryna Steyn, ProAgri

Situated near the town of Siphofaneni in Eswatini, the rich soil of Norsa farm provides the perfect growing spot for pineapple. But with uneven terrain and a significant height difference between the water source and crops, designing an efficient irrigation system is not a straightforward task.

Back in 2016, Rhodes food group entrusted the irrigation giant Agrico to design an irrigation system for the cultivation of pineapples here. Seven years later, the partnership can look back at the various challenges and many more successes of the Norsa journey.

Pineapples under 25 Agrico pivots

It all started when a congruent of Agrico approached them. They realised that the size of the project would be more than they could handle, so instead they involved Agrico to develop the irrigation system.

The Agrico team started by surveying the farm, followed by designing the system and then finally commissioning the construction. The carefully designed system ensures an efficient system for both electricity and water use.

“This is the first pineapple production I have heard of that irrigates with centre pivots,” says Francois de Kock, project leader from Agrico. “It was quite challenging to clear the thicket with pangas to see where we could place the centre pivots.”

The project was completed in five phases. A total of 1 250 hectares is under irrigation: 800 hectares are irrigated with 25 Agrico centre pivots and canon sprinklers cover the areas in between.

Irrigating at a significant incline thanks to Agrico

Assisting clients with challenging irrigation projects is not only rewarding to the Agrico team, but also intriguing.

“The height difference between the water source and the highest point irrigated is 165 metres,” Francois points out. “For most crops, it’s not recommended to pump water to that height because of the high energy expenditure. Luckily, because pineapples are a high-value crop with a low water need, the endeavor was worth it.”

To mitigate the challenges associated with pumping water at an incline, Agrico used a series of three balancing dams and six pump stations with a total of 28 pumps. “We move the water up to a certain height, collect it in the dam, and pump it to the next dam from which the fields are irrigated. This helps us to save as much energy as possible.”

Irrigation automation is key for energy efficiency at Norsa

According to Francois, automation is critical in ensuring the system runs effectively and without wasting electricity.

“Agrico Web Control controls and automates everything: from pumping water into the dams and overseeing the dam levels, to managing the pumps and centre pivots.”

Particularly useful on farms with changing elevations like Norsa, Agrico Web Control uses GPS functionality to increase energy savings. Agrico Web Control can determine the position of the last tower in a centre pivot and can monitor the pressure at the end of each pivot, as it moves across the fields.

The pivot is continuously communicating with the pumps about its pressure needs at any moment, so the pumps can adjust to use the bare minimum of electricity to maintain the necessary pressure.

Taking the journey with the farmer, from start-to-finish

Agrico has been with the project from the start and will continue to support them.

“The benefit of knowing your irrigation provider from start-to-finish is that we can also monitor the system’s performance and efficiency from our side and recommend when service or maintenance is needed,” Francois adds.

Norsa will soon see the beginning of phase six where Agrico will continue to prove that under their irrigation, pineapples are living the sweet life.

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