Five ways to cut irrigation costs in farming

The costs related to irrigation include the procurement of water from wells, canals, tanks, or ponds and the expenditure on electricity or diesel for pumping water. Saving water is a good way to cut overall farming costs and improve profit margins

US Anu
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Five ways to cut irrigation costs in farming

Five ways to cut irrigation costs in farming

Irrigation is one of the biggest expenses in farming. The costs related to irrigation and water management include the procurement of water from wells, canals, tanks, or ponds, and also the expenditure on electricity or diesel for pumping water.

Calculating the irrigation and water management costs per acre depends on water demand for each crop and its unit price. Sugarcane requires between 2,000 cubic meters to 3,000 cubic metres of water per hectare annually. If the rate of water is Rs 5 per cubic meter, the irrigation cost per acre will be Rs 10,000 at the lower end and Rs 15,000 at the upper end.

For wheat, the requirement of water ranges between 13,000 cubic metres and 20,000 cubic metres per hectare depending on the geography. So if farmers can cut the costs of irrigation, it can result in more savings and increased profit.

Saving water in agriculture is also crucial due to the country's water scarcity issues and the heavy reliance on agriculture as a primary source of livelihood.

More water usage means digging deeper bore wells, which pull down the water table and also hurt the overall environment.

Here are five effective ways to conserve water and cut costs:

Drip Irrigation Systems

Drip irrigation is an efficient method that delivers water directly to the roots of plants, minimizing evaporation and runoff. This method significantly reduces water wastage compared to traditional flood irrigation. It reduces the need for manual labour to water the plants, cutting costs further.

The cost of drip irrigation varies from Rs50,000 per acre for vegetable crops to Rs 35,000 per acre for fruit crops. The Government also provides a subsidy of 55 percent of the costs to small and marginal farmers and 45 percent to other farmers under the Per Drop More Crop (PDMC) component of Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY).

In Maharashtra, a state prone to drought, farmers have adopted drip irrigation extensively. In the Beed district, notorious for the highest number of farmer suicides due to drought,  Sandeep Gitte is producing around 60 tonnes of papaya per acre (against the national average of 40 tonnes per acre) through low-cost organic farming and the use of drip irrigation.

By using drip irrigation, farmers can grow more crops with less water, thus contributing to water conservation efforts.


Mulching involves covering the soil around plants with organic materials like straw, leaves, or even plastic sheets. This reduces water evaporation and maintains soil moisture. It also suppresses weed growth, cutting down costs of weeding out as well as irrigation.

Most organic farmers don’t remove fallen leaves of trees as they act as a natural mulching agent. In Punjab, where water tables are declining rapidly, farmers have started using plastic mulching extensively in vegetable cultivation. By covering the soil with plastic sheets, they ensure that the available water is utilized more efficiently for crop growth.

Also Read: How farmers can earn more with organic farming

Crop Rotation and Diversification

Crop rotation and diversification involve planting different crops in a sequence or mixing different types of crops in the same field. By practising crop rotation, growers can enhance the quality of organic matter and overall carbon content. This improves soil health, which in turn reduces water demand, and mitigates the risk of crop failure.

In Tamil Nadu, where water scarcity is a persistent issue, farmers have adopted crop rotation practices. For instance, they rotate water-intensive crops like rice with less water-demanding crops such as pulses or oilseeds. This not only conserves water but also improves soil fertility and reduces the overall water footprint of agriculture.

Also Read: How crop rotation can increase farmers’ incomes

Water Harvesting Structures 

Building water harvesting structures such as ponds, check dams, and rooftop rainwater harvesting systems can capture rainwater and surface runoff, replenishing groundwater resources and providing supplementary irrigation during dry periods.

In Rajasthan, a state known for its arid climate and water scarcity, farmers have constructed numerous check dams and farm ponds to capture rainwater. These structures help in recharging groundwater aquifers and provide water for irrigation during the dry season, reducing dependence on unsustainable groundwater pumping.

Fifty-seven villages in Rajasthan have adopted Padma Shri Laxman Singh’s pioneering Chauka system of water harvesting. It has also been replicated in Israel and Afghanistan, helping lakhs of people in water-scarce regions.

Adoption of Drought-Tolerant Crops and Varieties

Choosing crop varieties and species that are more tolerant to drought and require less water for growth can significantly reduce water consumption in agriculture. This has been the case with engineer-turned-farmer Kavita Mishra, who has turned barren land, with only 1.5 inches of water, into a lush green farm of sandalwood and fruits in Raichur, Karnataka.

She chose sandalwood, and fruits like pomegranate, lemon etc, which do not require much water. She earns Rs 4 lakh per month and will earn in crores after harvesting sandalwood from her 2500 trees in 2027.

Similarly, in Gujarat, where water scarcity is a perennial challenge, farmers have started cultivating drought-tolerant crops like pearl millet (bajra) and pulses such as pigeon pea (tur) and chickpea (chana). These crops require less water compared to water-intensive crops like sugarcane or rice, thus helping farmers cope with water scarcity while maintaining agricultural productivity.

Implementing these water-saving techniques not only conserves precious water resources but also enhances agricultural sustainability, resilience to climate change, and farmers' livelihoods across India.

(US Anu is a Madurai-based writer. She specialises in stories around human interest, environment and art and culture.)

Also Read: Five ways to buy genuine organic seeds in India

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