On Tuesday, April 10, the Shaikh Mohammad Alamoudi Chair for Water Research held a lecture entitled Sustainable Desert Crop Production with Subsurface Drip Irrigation, which was delivered by American professor Dr. Thomas Thompson, head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences.
Saudi Arabia has a water crisis available for agriculture, having no perennial rivers and streams and limited rainfall. Granted, the Kingdom has the world’s largest desalination program, but even after that water is pulled from the sea and treated, it is too saline for agricultural purposes.
But Dr. Thompson is an expert in a process called drip irrigation, a concept that has ties going back several centuries, but until recent times was effective only on a small-time basis. Saudi Arabia is trying to maximize its crop production with a minimal amount of water, and subsurface irrigation -- as well as surface irrigation -- offers a significant boost to the Kingdom’s quest.
Modern drip irrigation has arguably the world’s most valued innovation in agriculture since the invention of the impact sprinkler in the 1930s, according to one source. Also known as “trickle irrigation, “microirrigation” or localized irrigation, it saves water and fertilizer by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants from either just under the soil’s surface or on the surface using a series of values, pipes, tubing and emitters.
A significant portion of Dr. Thompson’s career has been focused on research of crop nutrition and water management. His expertise has earned him considerable international speaking invitations and millions of dollars in research grants for several universities where he has served. While he lives in a country blessed with enormous acreage of rich farmland, he is keenly aware of agricultural problems in desert regions, having taught at the University of Arizona in one of America’s most arid regions and having been a visiting professor in two Middle Eastern universities.
Drip irrigation has been found to not only save water and chemicals, anywhere from 10 to 30 percent with minimal loss of soil nutrients, but also to increase the yields and quality of vegetable crops. The starting costs can be extremely high for large-scale dripping irrigation and the cleanup process also can be expensive, but in land where water is in great demand, it’s considered a small price to pay.
The Shaikh Mohammad Alamoudi Chair for Water Research is headed by Dr. Abdulrahman A. Alazba, and features key researchers Drs. Mohammad N.B. El-Nesr and Mohammed T. Amin.