Drip irrigation ups potato growers’ profits
While rice is the main staple in Thailand, the humble potato is also much in demand and now cultivation of the country’s spuds is getting a helping hand thanks to a more sustainable form of irrigation.
Drip irrigation helps Chiang Rai’s potato farmers achieve nearly 23% higher output and nearly 81% higher net profit while also helping to strengthen Thailand’s food stability, the director of the Regional Office of Agriculture Economics 1 (Chiang Mai), Thawatchai Dechachet said on Sunday.
Currently, 1,828 rai of potato plantations in the northern province have adopted the drip irrigation technique to water the crops, Thawatchai added.
The technique uses a surface pipe network with 5-15 metres of pressure to water the potatoes’ root system directly at the rate of 1-8 litres per hour, he said, adding that solvable plant nutrients, fertilisers, and hormones can also be given via this method.
“Drip irrigation allows farmers to precisely control the amount of water and nutrients given to the crops, preventing flooding from overwatering, which is the main obstruction to the potatoes’ sprouting,” he said.
The drip irrigation system can be powered by solar panels to save electricity costs.
Last year the office performed a test among 40 farmers to compare the drip irrigation system with the traditional watering method. The test used Atlantic potatoes, which come under the price guarantee programme of several processing factories, to obtain a fair comparison of selling prices.
Atlantic potatoes are usually planted in December and can be harvested during March-April of the following year.
20 farmers who used drip irrigation had a production cost of 32,560 baht per rai, and achieved an output of 3,809 kilograms/rai and a profit of 9,844 baht per rai.
Meanwhile, those who used the traditional watering method were spending 30,865 baht per rai, and achieved an output of 2,937 kilograms/rai and a profit of 1,889 baht per rai.
This means that although the drip irrigation has a higher cost of 5.2%, it yields 22.75% more output per rai, which translates into 80.81% more profit.
Thawatchai added that after investing in drip irrigation, farmers will also enjoy reduced labour costs for crop watering and for adding nutrients, fertilisers, and hormones, which are recurring production costs.
Chiang Rai is the second largest potato planting area in the northern region after Tak. Its 8,322 rai of potato plantations account for 22% of all agricultural areas in the region. Currently there are 1,618 potato farmers in Chiang Rai, most of whom are in Mae Sai, Wiang Pa Pao, and Thoeng districts.
In 2022, Thailand produced 120,263 tonnes of potatoes, an increase of 8.48% year on year. Most of the domestic production (111,000 tonnes) went to domestic factories, which had a demand for 185,000 tonnes and therefore had to import the rest from overseas.
The Office of Agricultural Economics estimates that potato outputs will expand by at least 10% per year due to high demand. By 2027, Thailand should produce around 280,000 tonnes of potato for domestic consumption and export.