Smart irrigation increases efficiencies on Yulin farms

In arid and semi-arid regions such as Northwest China’s Loess Plateau, H2O comes at a premium. In these water-limited areas, every drop needs to be utilized as efficiently as possible.

On the sprawling terraced fields of Gaoxigou village in Mizhi county, Shaanxi province, a severely water-deprived area, steps are being taken to use as little water as possible in the most efficient way so that agriculture can thrive.

The “four-in-one” dryland agricultural water-saving project combines water-saving and storage with scientific irrigation using the latest in farming technologies.

The major elements of this project consist of the building of ravine embankments for water storage, pumping water from the bottom of ravines to the top using solar energy, and using gravity and solar energy to distribute the water for irrigation via a pipeline network.

Through the use of solar power, water stored in the embankments is pumped to elevated tanks that double as rainwater collectors, facilitating drip irrigation for crops such as millet and apples, covering a total area of 122 hectares in Gaoxigou.

Drip irrigation uses the bare minimum amount of water required to grow a plant by the slow, even application of low-pressure water to plants using plastic tubing directly to their roots.

“Through the integration and application of these technologies, crop yields can be significantly increased,” said Li Rui, director of the agriculture and rural affairs bureau of Mizhi county.

The project addresses the longstanding challenge of agricultural irrigation and water scarcity in Gaoxigou and surrounding areas, and has led to substantial improvements in many areas.

The project, introduced in 2022, has saved 75,000 metric tons of irrigation water annually, reduced labor by 30 percent, and boosted yearly income in Gaoxigou by 1.69 million yuan ($232,600), according to Li.

The measures are continually adjusted according to the local conditions to improve agriculture in the water-scarce areas around the historical garrison town of Yulin.

Unlike the hilly and ravine-filled landscape of Gaoxigou, Dajihan village in Yuyang district of Yulin, due to its relatively flat and open terrain, has adopted large-scale drip irrigation using an intelligent management system for its agriculture.

The system aims to achieve higher yields with minimal water and fertilizer usage. It filters and delivers water and nutrients precisely to the roots of crops using real-time monitoring, allowing the workers to make appropriate adjustments.

“This is currently one of the most advanced and efficient water-saving technologies in the country,” said Jiang Hong, deputy director of the agriculture and rural affairs bureau of Yuyang district in Yulin.

“It involves drawing underground sandy water into settling tanks, filtering it twice and then delivering the filtered water with a precise mixture of fertilizer to the crops through drip irrigation.”

The intelligent water-fertilizer integrated drip irrigation technology has made the village a “leading modern water-saving farm”, according to Jiang.

The project uses 30 percent less water per year compared to previous practices, achieves fertilizer and electricity savings of over 20 percent, boosts crop yields by over 15 percent per hectare, and has increased incomes in Dajihan by 1.68 million yuan per year, said Wang Hui, director of the agricultural and water conservancy comprehensive development center of Yuyang district.

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