Drip Irrigation : Something New in Onion
Experiment shows that drip irrigation in onion can increase yield by as much as four times. This could make onion farming more competitive in the face of cheap imports.
Onion farming has become very erratic, says 44-year-old Joseph Eugenio of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, who has been growing the crop for at least 20 years. One year, the price may be high but at other times, the price could be below production cost. The fumigate price in San Jose last April 3, for instance, was P6 per kilo. At this rate, if one is using the old traditional method of growing onion, the farmer could hardly break even. Thus, one has to try unproved techniques to increase production so one could make a profit.
Thus, when Eugenio was asked by Netafim, the Israeli drip irrigation company, to try the drip system, he did not hesitate to adopt the technology. He planted 400 grams or one can of Red Pinoy seeds in 2,000 square meters using drippers supplied by Netafim.
We witnessed the harvesting of the crop at a harvest festival last April 3 where Eugenio got a yield of 187.5 netbags from that one can of seeds. Each bag weighed 27 kilos butis considered by the traders as 25 kilos, the extra two kilos being allowance for shrinkage.
Under the traditional system of growing onion, Eugenio said, one usually gets 45 netbags. With drip irrigation, Eugenio got four times! Thus, at that rate of production, the farmer could still make a profit even if the price in the market is low. (One usual cause of low prices is the oversupply brought about by cheap onions from China which may be legally or illegally imported.)
Of course, there is an added cost in adopting the drip system but Eugenio said that could be recovered with the greatly increased yield. The driplines are reusable for several years so the initial cost could be depreciated over a number of years.
Eugenio is totally sold to the use of drip irrigation for a number of good reasons. Besides higher yield, the harvest is also of better quality. He explains that bulbs are very uniform. They are heavier and with firmer texture, hence they have a longer shelf life. We weighed one bulb during our visit and got 97 grams. The bulb grown the traditional way, on the other hand, weighed 65 grams.
Growing onion the drip irrigation way is also very convenient, according to Eugenio. He just opens the valve for a few minutes a day and all the plants get their dose of moisture for their proper growth and development. Fertilizer is also applied through the driplines every other day. Very little fertilizer is needed, only 3.4 kg of fertilizers every other day or about a hundred kilos for the entire crop on 2,000 square meters. Fertilizing is very precise so that each plant receives its fair share of the nourishment. Under the traditional system where the fertilizer is broadcasted, the distribution may not be very uniform.
Drip irrigation was tried on onion for the first time in Eugenio’s farm as far as the Netafim people are concerned. Emie Siojo, an engineer of the company, revealed that they got the idea from India where the technology has been adopted with outstanding results.
The 2,000 sq.m. field of Eugenio was divided into 36 plots, each measuring 25 meters long, 80 cm wide and 20 cm high. Six rows of seedlings distanced 10 cm apart were planted in each plot. Two driplines were also installed per plot.
The seeds were germinated on November 17, 2006 and planted in the field last January 7. When the plants were still small, the driplines were opened for only 15 minutes each day. Later, the drippers were open up to 33 minutes a day. The water comes from an elevated plastic tank simply by gravity.
At the harvest festival, about 50 farmers from Nueva Ecija attended. Netafim technicians such as Riza Simora explained the advantages of drip irrigation and how it works. On the other hand, Tom Brillo of East-West Seed which supplies Red Pinoy seeds also talked on the importance of using quality seeds and improved production techniques. Of course, Joseph Eugenio also discussed his exciting experience with drip irrigation.
By the way, Joseph is an agriculture graduate from the Central Luzon State University, major in soil science. Instead of seeking employment after graduation, he opted to become a full-time farmer. He grows rice on eight hectares and onions on a smaller area after rice.