Nagpur Orange Belt and Shortage of Water - How Smart Irrigation Can Help?

Shridhar Thakre, owner of a 20-acre land with 3,500 orange trees in Talegaon village (Ashti) in Wardha district, reportedly stopped going to the orchards as he could not see the condition of the trees. “The temperatures continuously hovered between 44 - 47.5 degrees celsius in the month of May, for the first time. Pre-monsoon showers were absent too” said Thakre to the Times of India. This condition resides with hundreds of orange farmers in Nagpur, home to the most important commercial citrus cultivation in the country occupying around 0.2 million hectares of Satpura hills (Vidarbha region) of Central India. 

Citrus crops are high water requiring evergreen perennial fruit crops. About sixty-eight per cent of citrus growers prefer basin irrigation. The orange orchards are irrigated majorly by the basin method using groundwater in this region. Rainfall data in the Nagpur region for the past 100 years show a declining trend. Groundwater levels are declining in most parts not only due to poor saturation of aquifers due to scanty rainfall but also due to desaturation of aquifers due to greater exploitation of the groundwater resources.

“Unavailability of water has further compounded the heatwave conditions prevailing each year. As groundwater recharge remains inefficient, borewells are drying across Vidarbha” claims an orange farmer from the Nagpur region. 

How Smart Irrigation is Improving Water Management Systems?

Smart irrigation offers optimization of water resources based on existing field information like soil moisture and weather predictions. This is done with sensors that collect local weather data and real-time field intricacies like soil moisture content, crop growth status etc. that help to determine the irrigation needs of the landscape. 

It helps farmers to avoid water wastage and improve the quality of crop growth in their fields by:

  • irrigating at the correct times

  • minimising runoffs and other wastes

  • determining the soil moisture levels accurately, thereby, finding the irrigation requirements at any place.

Smart Irrigation System Architecture

Soil Moisture Sensors

The water requirement of crops varies depending on their growth stage, species, climate and soil type. Both over-irrigation and under irrigation can lead to reduced productivity. Leaf curling from the edge inwards is a sign of water stress in citrus plants. If left untreated will cause the leaves to dry out and finally fall off with immature fruits.

The nutritional status of a plant is another important indicator of its health and productivity. Nitrogen is associated with the proper growth, development and quality of citrus plants and fruit drops. Phosphorus is essential for better root development and the proper functioning of cell energy systems. Potassium leads to adequate fruit size. Additionally, micronutrients such as iron, manganese, copper and zinc are greatly necessary for proper enzyme functioning. Deficiency in any one of these prevents metabolic activity resulting in reduced vegetative growth and less yield and may ultimately be responsible for the complete decline of the plants. The availability of required nutrients in soil plays a major role in nutrient uptake by plants. This can be actively detected by soil sensors, responsible for keeping information like volumetric water content and soil nutrient level in check. 

Mulching as a Water-Saving Technique

Mulching is the process of covering the open surface of the cropland with a layer of some external material (called ‘mulch’). It serves the following purposes:

  • it helps to retain soil moisture, so less amount of water is required during irrigation

  • it traps surface water of the soil that would otherwise evaporate quickly

  • mulching helps to regulate soil temperature by creating a barrier from the heat and cold which is beneficial for proper root growth

  • it also protects soil from erosion, heavy winds, intense sunlight and overall weathering

  • mulching arrests the growth of harmful weeds by not allowing their seeds to germinate

Mulching Technique. Credit:

Nagpur oranges have a very high economic return from this crop compared with other crops, not just in the country but in the international market as well. But acquiring less and less yield every year due to the water crisis has caused major concerns among the farmers in Nagpur. Smart irrigation technology can help to combat this challenge through the use of IoT-powered agricultural sensors that enable farmers to closely monitor field conditions and adjust irrigation practices accordingly. This results not only in more efficient water management but in higher crop yields and lower costs.



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