عنوان مقاله [English]
Over the last years, long-term average rainfall has experienced a meaningful decrease (from 250 to 206 mm per year) leading to continuous drought in Iran. In addition, population growth and increasing demand for food put more pressure on the limited available water resources. Thus, the quantitative and qualitative improvement of agricultural products become a necessity. There is 640,000 hectares of alfalfa cultivated land, standing for 5.4% of the total cultivated area. One of the most basic obstacles in these farms is the unsuitable model of water consumption management. Previous studies were conducted with the aim of evaluating the mutual effects of different treatments in controlled plots. Nonetheless, there is a need for large-scale investigations to monitor and improve water productivity in agricultural systems. In this research, the focus was on irrigation management and optimizing irrigation timing as a potential solution to enhance water productivity, considering the fixed irrigation cycles and traditional use of available water resources. The study began by assessing the current water productivity in 11 alfalfa farms located across four regions in Zanjan province, ensuring a suitable spatial distribution. Subsequently, the impact of irrigation management, particularly the adjustment of irrigation timing, was evaluated to determine its effectiveness in improving water productivity in these farms.
Materials and Methods
Eleven alfalfa farms, covering a total area of 28 hectares, were initially selected in the agricultural lands of Zanjan province. The majority of these farms were equipped with sprinkler irrigation systems. From these 11 farms, two specific farms were chosen to implement the proposed methods aimed at improving water productivity. These selected farms served as experimental sites where the irrigation management techniques were applied and evaluated. Improvement solutions were mainly focused on irrigation management. Each farm was divided into two parts; one part with real conditions (farmers' management) and the second one with controlled conditions. In the controlled treatments, irrigation management was implemented through optimization of irrigation time. A nutritional program was also prepared according to the soil quality of the fields and applied in the controlled treatments. In each farm, basic information such as area, physical and chemical properties of soil and water quality were determined. Irrigation information (such as inflow discharge and irrigation schedule) was measured and determined at least three times during the cropping season. Soil moisture were measured before and after irrigation in order to calculate the water application efficiency. The amount of harvested product and production costs were obtained at the end of the cropping season through measurements and interviews with farmers. In this research, the indicators including the volume of irrigation water, the water use efficiency, and the physical and economic efficiency of water have been calculated to analyze the water productivity.
Results and Discussion
The volume of irrigation water in alfalfa farms was measured as 14250 m3/ha on average (with the lowest and highest consumption values of 9849 and 20576 m3/ha, respectively). The average of irrigation water in farms with surface irrigation systems equals to 17,806 and in farms equipped with sprinkle irrigation systems is about 13,460 m3/ha. While the net water requirement of alfalfa in study area was 7160 to 7290 m3/ha. The minimum and maximum values of water application efficiency were 38.3 and 82%, respectively, with average of 64%. The average of application efficiency in surface and sprinkle irrigation systems were obtained 50 and 67%, respectively. The measured alfalfa yield ranged from a minimum of 6.5 ton/ha to a maximum of 14.1 ton/ha, with an average yield of 10.4 ton/ha. After implementing the revised irrigation program in the controlled plots, the harvested water decreased by an average of 49.5%. It was observed that the irrigation schedule in most farms followed a traditional and estimated pattern, with the depth of irrigation water in the middle of the growing season exceeding the net irrigation requirement. The water use efficiency (WUE) values varied between 0.42 and 1.28 kg/m3, with a minimum value of 0.42 kg/m3 and a maximum value of 1.28 kg/m3. The average WUE was calculated as 0.79 kg/m3. Analyzing the correlation between water consumption and the water use efficiency index revealed a decreasing trend. As the volume of irrigation water increased, the water use efficiency index experienced a decline. Specifically, an increase of 1000 m3 in irrigation water resulted in a decrease of 0.04 kg/m3 in the water use efficiency index. The implementation of the corrected irrigation program and appropriate to the water demand led to an increase of the mentioned index by 72%.
The lack of proper irrigation programs that consider climatic conditions and the actual needs of the alfalfa plant was identified as a key factor contributing to high water consumption in the farms. Additionally, the inefficient selection and design of the irrigation system led to lower irrigation efficiency than expected. Despite the majority of farms being equipped with sprinkle irrigation systems, the harvested water did not decrease significantly due to inadequate water management practices. These factors ultimately resulted in a decline in both physical and economic productivity indicators in the alfalfa farms. However, the results of the study highlighted that implementing corrected irrigation management, particularly through modifications to the irrigation timing, can lead to a significant decrease in volume of irrigation water and an improvement in both physical and economic productivity.