High-tech irrigated fruit growing: the magic of dripping in the São Francisco Valley caatinga

By Glayton Rocha, agronomic specialist, Netafim Brasil

08.06.2021 | 20:59 (UTC -3)

Imagine that you are driving your Fiat Uno 1.0 in a desert in the middle of summer. It’s about 39℃ outside and there isn’t a single cloud in the immense blue sky. Apart from the black of the asphalt, everything else is white from the trees and stones or yellow from the ground and dust. Some goats graze along the edges of the track and “dusty” cacti reign supreme over the landscape. But, suddenly: a river, a bridge and a gigantic orchard with banana, guava, acerola, coconut, mango, grapes, papaya, among others.

If you managed to see all of this, congratulations! You already have an idea of ​​what it's like to arrive in Petrolina (PE) or Juazeiro (BA), in the São Francisco Valley (VSF), in the middle of the backlands caatinga in mid-September. If you weren't able to, I invite you to come and discover with your own eyes the beauty of irrigated fruit growing in the hinterland.

It seems scary at first, it's even shocking, such a dry place allows the development of so many plants of the most varied sizes, foliage and fruits. Even more shocking is discovering that they are all being fed by small drops throughout the day. This all illustrates what people feel (I include myself) and I call it the “magic of drip irrigation”.

If you are not yet familiar with drip irrigation technology, I will try to explain how it works in the same way it was discovered. Imagine a tiny leak in a pipe that runs near a tree and drops a few drops of water near it. Just for this simple fact, this tree will be more lush than others close to it, but let's go further.

The water from this pipe also contains dissolved nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other minerals. Just with the drops of water it would become quite green and could even flower, but with low production. Receiving water with minerals (nutrients for plants), it not only became very green and flourished, but also produced as much as was not thought possible in that place.

This is what happened to the grape a few years ago when it arrived in northeastern Brazil. With the great work of producers, together with EMBRAPA semi-arid, more adapted varieties were developed, management techniques and efficiency of irrigation systems were improved and thanks to this, the cultivation of high-yielding fruit trees became possible. There is seasonality here, but fruit production doesn't stop! There are 12 months a year harvesting the most varied mangoes (Keitt, Kent, Tommy, Palmer), grapes (Cotton Candy, Sweet Globe, Vitória, Itália), among others. In the case of grapes, there are 2 harvests per year (5 harvests in 2 years often).

Mango plantation irrigated with Netafim drip
Mango plantation irrigated with Netafim drip
Mango plantation irrigated with Netafim drip
Mango plantation irrigated with Netafim drip

And with the help of drip irrigation technology, along with all the others I mentioned earlier, the yields of these crops are increasing every year. A few years ago mangos reached 20 t/ha (and it was beautiful!), today we are talking about 40 t/ha. The grape today, in addition to producing more than 2 harvests per year, reaches productivity of 20 t/ha/harvest.

This is because back then, producers and researchers were not satisfied with that drop of water that fell near each plant. They sought information and technology from Netafim Nutrirrigation in Israel to achieve higher yields at lower costs. Previously, large quantities of fertilizers were applied via an irrigation system every 15 or 30 days (fertigation). This technique gave rise to minimum daily (or almost daily) applications of fertilizers via a drip irrigation system, due to its exclusive characteristic of very low flow (small drops), 1 to 2 liters of water per hour, which revolutionized the results.

Glayton Rocha, agronomic specialist, Netafim Brasil

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