By Brian Russell
Corporate Engagement Team
Over the past 10 years, rainfall distribution has changed in Conselice, in the north of Italy. A region that typically has plenty of available water has found itself struggling during recent summers. Irrigation, which has never been a cornerstone of local agriculture, has become a necessity.
In 2012, corn yield in this area was very low due to the severe drought summer season, achieving in some farms an average of only 0.7 t/ha.
Alessandro Petitoni and his family are acutely aware of this. Petitoni and his family have managed La Speranza farm since 1990. The farm, founded by his father in 1960, today grows 140 hectares (ha) of corn and winter wheat. The farm delivers its products to two diary farms and one local mill.
La Speranza’s fields could be irrigated by pressurized water, but not all are effectively irrigated. A fixed cost for pressurized water is about 90 €/ha, plus 0.15€ for each cubic meter of water used.
In 2013, Petitoni sought to try a drip irrigation system in a corn field. In order to do this, La Speranza became one of the five active partners for the AquaTEK™ project in Italy supported by DEKALB® and Netafim.
The drip irrigation line was placed 5 cm below the soil surface, in a two-hectare area. The area received irrigation at a specified time for about six hours every four days. Once the system was settled, it was much less laborious than other types of irrigation, including sprinkler irrigation, which is often used in this farm.
Drip irrigation not only conserves more water than other irrigation methods, it also increases efficiency. By increasing efficiency, yield will improve because water reaches the accessible zone for plant roots more quickly.
The most critical component of the drip system is the filtration mechanism. The filtration system cleans the drip lines, retaining salt, sediment and bacterial growth that corrode and clog emitters. It also permits Petitoni to add nitrogen to his irrigation schedule when needed.
“The best thing of drip irrigation is the reduction in irrigation labor,” Petitoni said. “You don’t have to worry about errors being made by man. It is all uniform; you turn it on and it works. We had some little difficulties at the end of the season when we collected the plastic flat of the system … but in 2014, we are going to get the second year of the drip irrigation experience in our farm in a larger area (about 10 ha).”
Petitoni’s family has reaped all the typical benefits of using drip irrigation on their corn including less use of water, fertilizer and labor.
“Farming corn now is easier, because drip irrigation, with the appropriate DEKALB® corn hybrids, optimizes yields, minimizes inputs, and maximizes profits,” Petitoni said. “I got yield more than 13 t/ha against 0.7 t/ha in 2012. Now that we did this great experience in corn with drip, I can’t imagine farming it any other way. It’s the irrigation of the future that help me to guarantee a profit from my corn even under different climate conditions.”