Over the previous two decades of the 21st century, there were droughts in Moldova every two years out of five on average, but since 2020 every second year in the country is dry. Moreover, according to the estimates of the local hydrometeorological service, the shortage of precipitation in most of the country’s territory this year compared to the long-term statistical norm is 30-55%. Until the end of March, the forecast is not encouraging, there are only hopes for rain in April and later. Nevertheless, it is obvious that a normal regime of soil moisture in the current agricultural season is only possible on irrigated lands.
However, good-quality water for irrigation in Moldova is a scarce resource. The water quality of small rivers, streams, and lakes in the country is often unsuitable for intensive irrigation, especially given the high levels of some metals in Moldovan soils and the high risk of salinization. Sufficient water for irrigation is available only in the coastal regions of the Dniester and Prut. But even there, water is an expensive resource. Services for pumping water on plantations to farmers in the area of operation of centralized irrigation systems using Dniester and Prut waters average about 5 MDL per 1 m3 ($0.27). Given the non-guaranteed sale of agricultural products at affordable prices, many farmers, even those with access to water and irrigation systems, are forced to save on irrigation.
The question of how to make this process more rational was discussed during the seminar “High technologies in horticulture and vegetable growing in Moldova“, organized by the Federation of Agricultural Producers FARM with the support of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on March 15 in Chisinau. A speaker of the forum, expert of the Moldovan company IM “Expert Agroteh” SRL Sergey Alba noted that in the soil and climatic conditions of Moldova, the use of subsurface drip irrigation systems (SDIs) allows saving up to 30% of water compared to surface drip irrigation systems. At the same time, structurally, underground irrigation systems make it possible to create the most comfortable environment for plant nutrition and “breathing”.
Unlike ground drip irrigation systems, SDI systems are laid in the soil at a depth of 25-40 cm. That is, they supply water to the soil horizon, from where it is most actively consumed by the roots of many crops. These systems can be harmoniously integrated into those or other forms of agriculture that provide for minimal or no mechanical tillage (mini-till, strip-till, no-till). Also, both newly created and existing perennial plantations can be equipped with SDI systems. In addition to saving water, these systems reduce the inefficient consumption of expensive mineral fertilizers. Thanks to this, underground irrigation contributes to the greening of agriculture, is suitable for conversion and, possibly, organic agricultural production.
The most advanced irrigation system is subsurface impulse drip irrigation (SIDI). These systems are turned on several times during the day, but for short periods of time – when moisture sensors and/or tensiometers signal the need for soil and plant moisture.
The cost of DSI systems in Moldova is about $3 500-4 500/ha. That is, it is slightly higher than the costs of ground drip irrigation systems. However, the underground irrigation system is designed for a longer period of operation – up to ten years (although in some countries there are cases of their normal operation for two decades).
Experts estimate that currently, underground irrigation systems in Moldova have been installed on 700-800 ha, about 200 ha of them are vineyards and 150 ha are orchards.
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