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Agro-knowledge Management Crop Series No.

Plantations Under Drip Fertigation

Dr. V. Praveen Rao

Agro-Knowledge Management

Agriculture Division
Netafim Ltd.,
161 Arlozorov St., Tel Aviv, Israel 64922

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the
prior written permission of the Publisher, Netafim Ltd., Israel

Disclaimer: The package of practices given in this crop-growing manual is based on limited experimental data
and need not be applicable to all banana-growing regions. Further bunch yield is a function of several
interactive factors viz., soil, crop, climate, biotic and abiotic stresses besides the management level of the
farmer. Therefore the company does not guarantee the production levels mentioned in the booklet, in every
location where the package is adopted.

1. Introduction 4
2. Distribution 4
3. Nutritional importance 6
4. Growth physiology 7
5. Climatic requirement 10
6. Soil requirement 12
7. Varieties 14
8. Site selection 15
9. Land preparation 15
10. Cropping systems 16
11. Planting material 17
12. Time of planting 21
13. Planting density 22
14. Planting configuration under drip 23
15. Drip fertigation system 25
16. Crop rotation 28
17. Weed control 28
18. Water management 29
19. Fertigation 39
20. Bunch propping 57
21. Denavelling 58
22. Bunch covers 58
23. Desuckering 61
24. Ratoon sucker selection 62
25. Leaf removal 63
26. Mulching 63
27. Wind breaks 65
28. Plant protection 65
29. Harvesting, Transporting, Handling, Ripening & Storage 67
30. Fruit yield 70
31. Economics 70
32. References 73


15. Drip fertigation system
Drip irrigation refers to frequent application of small quantities of water on or below the soil
surface as drops, tiny streams through emitters of pre-determined discharge placed along a water
delivery line i.e., lateral or emitting pipe. It embodies the philosophy of irrigating the plant (root
zone) instead of entire land, as done in conventional surface irrigation methods. It consists of a
head control unit, water carrier system and water distribution system.
15.1 Advantages
Adoption of drip fertigation in banana is technically feasible, economically viable and
beneficial in many ways:
Better establishment of suckers/plantlets and early vigorous growth,
Uniform flower initiation and shooting fruit development
Improved fruit development contributing to increased hands/bunch, fingers/hand and
bunch weight,
Earliness and uniformity in harvesting leading to reduction in crop cycles duration (Plant
crop + 2 ratoons in 30 months)
Successful utilization of saline water for irrigation due to micro-leaching effect in the wetted
Saving in water up to 51.8% (Fig. 16) (ICID, 1994) contributing to higher water productivity
over ridge & furrow method

Fig.16. Banana water requirement Drip versus Surface furrow irrigation

Fig.17. Soil application (444N + 178 P2O5 + 888 K2O/ha) versus

drip fertigation (222N + 89 P2O5 + 444 K2O/ha)

Efficient use of fertilizers due to fertigation (Fig. 17) (Rasker, 2003)

Energy conservation (2434.42 kwh/ha) over surface method,
Improved weed control and saving in labour due fewer plant protection & harvesting
Less leaf spot disease incidence and
Higher yield (Fig.18) and fruit quality viz., weight, size and colour (INCID, 1994; Young
et.al., 1985)

Fig.18. Banana bunch yield Drip irrigation versus surface furrow irrigation
15.2 Drip Head control unit
A drip head control unit showing different components is depicted through Fig. 19.

Fig.19. Drip head control unit and system components

15.3 Drip design configurations

As a guideline the key design parameters followed in different countries for adoption of drip
irrigation system in banana plantations are presented below in Table 4:
Table 4. Drip design guidelines for Banana in different countries
Drip design parameter
Brazil India Israel
Drip system version Surface Surface Subsurface
Planting configuration Double row Single row Single row
Spatial arrangement (m) [(2 x 4) 2] 1.8 x 1.5 5.5 x 3
Plant population/ha 1666 3700 666
Drip product Ram & Tiran Ram & DLN 2016 Ram & Uniram
Number of laterals/row One One 3
Dripline spacing (m) 3 1.8 1.66
Dripline installation depth (m) Onsurface Onsurface 0.2
Emitter spacing (m) 0.75 4.0 0.3 to 0.5
Emitter discharge (LPH) 3.5 & 4.0 2.0 1.6

Banana bunch weight and bunch yield as influenced by number of laterals per row is
presented in Fig. 20 (Lahav & Lowengart, 1998). The data clearly reveals that 3 driplines per row is
significantly superior over two driplines per row.

Fig.20. Banana bunch weight and bunch yield as influenced by number of driplines per row

16. Crop rotation

The following crop rotations are commonly followed in banana cropping system.
Crop rotation
Banana Plant crop Ratoon I Ratoon II Rice Sugarcane
Banana Chillies / Pulses / Oilseeds
Banana Plant crop Ratoon I Sugarcane Irrigated cotton
Banana Cereals Cotton
Banana Cereals Tapioca / Sweet Potato
Banana Plant crop Ratoon I Vegetables
Banana Ratoon 1 Peanut Wheat
Banana Ratoon 1 Peanut Vegatables

17. Weed control

Weeds are an important constraint for banana farmers, and weed control should be strictly
applied from planting time onwards. Soon after planting, weeds usually proliferate due to high
population of weed seeds, the water and nutrients applied to the soil and the abundance of light.
Heavy mechanical cultivation cannot be tolerated due to root damage and therefore regular light
intercultivation should be practiced while banana plants are still small and definitely before the

weeds produce seed. Gradually the weed problem will diminish as weed seeds become depleted
and increased shade from the banana canopy suppresses weed growth.
Weeds reduce yield up to 40 50% depending upon cultivar and soil. First 6 months of
crop growth are most critical for weed growth and is considered critical for crop weed
competition. Therefore plantation has to be kept completely weed-free during this period. In drip
irrigated banana improved weed control is achieved because weeds are confined to only wet soil
zones along the dripline owing to localized water application. During early stages, complete control
of weeds could be obtained by raising cover crops in the interspaces. Apart from agronomic
measures, pre-emergence application of Diuron @ 4.0kg/ha is effective in controlling weeds during
the initial 3 to 4 months. Weeds emerging later could be controlled by the application of Glyphosate
(Glycel 41 EC) @ 2.0 kg/ha followed by Paraquat (Gramoxone 24 EC) @ 1.8 kg/ha. Glyphosate
should be applied using hood @ 10ml/litre of water + Ammonium Sulphate 20g/litre where Cyperus
rotundus or Cynodon dactylon are dominant. But an integrated management of weeds by
intercropping cover crops, vegetative or plastic mulching and use of herbicides was found to be
economical. Where manual labour is cheap hand weeding is resorted to, give 4 5 surface
diggings depending on weed growth. Avoid deep digging. Do not disturb soil after plants start
producing bunches.

18. Water management

18.1 Rooting characteristics
a) Roots constitute the link between the plant and the soil thereby providing anchorage and
guaranteeing nutrient and water uptake.
b) Root system is adventitious and fleshy from the beginning (Fig. 21)

Fig.21. Banana First order and second order primary adventitious root system
under subsurface drip irrigation system

c) A healthy rhizome may produce about 500 1000 primary roots

d) The primary roots are about 5 to 8 mm in thickness and are white when new and healthy.
Later they turn grey or brown before eventually dying.
e) From each primary root a system of secondary and tertiary roots develop
f) The proportion of secondary and tertiary roots in bananas was found to be 22% and 77%,
g) Functional life of Cavendish subgroup primary roots was estimated to be from four to six
months and that of secondary and tertiary roots was about eight weeks and five weeks
h) Towards flowering, new primary root emergence from the parent rhizome ceases and
sucker roots become predominant.
i) The vertical root zone is very shallow with about 40% of the root volume in the top 10cm
and 85% in the top 30cm.
j) Spatial (vertical and horizontal) root distribution of banana is shown in Fig. 22 (Araya,

Fig.22. Spatial distribution of banana roots
k) Root distribution, both horizontally and vertically, is strongly influenced by:
Soil depth, soil texture, soil compaction; and Internal drainage
SAR and ECe
High water table, frequent waterlogging & flooding
Phytopathological factors

18.2 Effective crop root zone depth

One of the essential pre-requisites for scientific irrigation scheduling is knowledge of
effective root zone depth of the banana crop. The term effective could be described as the depth
within which approximately 80% of the feeder roots are located. It is also the depth from which the
crop meets its 90% of the water requirements and it is the depth considered for calculating
irrigation water requirements. Irrigation water depth when scheduled below this rooting depth can
result in wastage of both water as deep percolation and leaching of nutrients.

Fig.23. Banana rooting pattern in different soil depth increments

The rooting pattern of banana is shown in Fig. 23 (Robinson and Alberts, 1989). Nearly
88% of the roots exposed, were naturally located within 30 cm of the soil surface and 97% within
40cm. It is recommended; therefore, that even under conditions allowing unimpeded vertical root
distribution, banana irrigation should be scheduled to wet only 30cm of soil depth, but to ensure
that within this zone, the soil does not dry out beyond 25% depletion of available soil moisture. This
correlates closely with water extraction patterns in that 87% of total water extracted by roots came
from the same vertical zone. In case of drip irrigation where roots are concentrated in to a confined
wetting pattern, which is predetermined according to soil type, more frequent (daily) irrigations are
required to prevent excessive drying of these concentrated (bulb) root zones.
Root distribution both horizontally and vertically, however, is strongly influenced by soil
type, compaction and drainage. Heavy, compact or poorly drained soils severely limit root
extension and yields are depressed accordingly. Conversely, lighter soils which are well drained
and which have been ploughed to below 50 cm, induce more and healthier roots, and there is a
good correlation between bunch mass and root volume. A banana adventitious root system is very
spreading, and horizontal extension of primary roots is commonly between 1 to 2 m.

18.3 Water supply and crop yield

Banana requires an ample and frequent supply of water; water deficits adversely affect
crop growth and yields. The establishment period and the early phase of the vegetative

period determine the potential for growth and fruiting and adequate water and sufficient
nutrient supply is essential during this period.
Water deficits in the vegetative period affect the photosynthetic rate (Fig. 24) (Eckstein,
1994) and rate of leaf development, which in turn can influence the number of flowers in
addition to the number of hands and bunch production.

Fig.24. Water stress effect on banana photosynthetic rate under field conditions
The flowering period starts at flower differentiation, although vegetative development can
still continue. Water deficits in this period limit leaf growth and number of fruits.
Water deficits in yield formation period affect both the fruit size and quality (poorly filled
fingers). A reduced leaf area will reduce the rate of fruit filling; this leads, at harvest time, to
bunchs being older than they appear to be, consequently the fruits are liable to premature
during storage.
Regular water supply under drip irrigation produces taller plants, with greater leaf area,
and results in earlier shooting and higher yields. Interval between irrigation has a
pronounced effect on yields, with higher yields being achieved when intervals are kept
short as in drip irrigated crop.
Under conditions of limited water supply, total production will be higher when full crop
water requirements are met over a limited area than when crop water requirements are
partially met over an extended area.

The ratio between relative yield decrease and relative evapotranspiration deficit is 1.2 to
1.35, with little difference between different growth periods (Doorenbos and Kassam,

18.4 Irrigation scheduling & Crop water requirement

The goal of an efficient irrigation scheduling programme is to provide knowledge on
correct time and optimum quantity of water application to optimize crop yields with
maximum water use efficiency and at the same time ensure minimum damage to the soil .
Irrigation scheduling is the decision of when and how much water to apply to a cropped
Its purpose is to maximize irrigation efficiencies by applying the exact amount of water
needed to replenish the soil moisture to the desired level.
Make efficient use of water and energy.
Therefore, irrigation scheduling for bananas involves accurate calculations of the amount
of water to be applied at each irrigation, and the interval between irrigation, for each soil-plant-
climate combination. The banana is a tropical herbaceous evergreen plant which has no natural
dormant phase and which has a high water demand throughout the year, especially at high
temperatures. In this respect the important characteristics of the banana plant are:
a) A high transpiration potential due to the large broad leaves and high LAI
b) A shallow root system compared with most tree fruit crops
c) A poor quality to withdraw water from soil beneath field capacity
d) A rapid physiological response to soil water deficit
These factors make banana plants extremely sensitive to even slight variations in soil
water content, emphasizing the importance of correct irrigation scheduling.
With drip irrigation, intervals of irrigation are usually daily irrespective of pan evaporation
(Epan), or even in pulses several times per day.
The crop evapotranspiration under standard conditions, denoted as Etc, is the
evapotranspiration from disease free, well-fertilized banana crop, grown in large fields, under
optimum soil water conditions, and achieving full production under the given climatic condition. The
amount of water required to compensate the evapotranspiration loss from the cropped field is

defined as crop water requirement. Although the values for crop evapotranspiration and crop
water requirement are identical, crop water requirement refers to the amount of water that needs to
be supplied, while crop evapotranspiration refers to the amount of water that is lost in evaporation
+ transpiration. The irrigation water basically represents the difference between the crop water
requirement and effective precipitation. The irrigation water requirement also includes additional
water for leaching of salts and to compensate for non-uniformity of water application.
The crop water requirement for scheduling irrigation is calculated according to the
following formula:

Crop ETc = (Epan x Kpan) Kc

Crop ETc = ETo x Kc

Crop ETc = Water requirement (mm/day)
Crop ETo = Reference crop evapotranspiration (mm/day)
Epan = Evaporation from USWB Class A Pan evaporimeter (previous day)
Kpan = Pan coefficient
Kc = Experimentally derived Crop factor

The Epan from an USWB Class A Pan evaporimeter reflects the evaporative demand of
the atmosphere for the location in question. While the crop factor (a dimensionless ratio) indicates
the combined loss of water from a banana plantation both by transpiration and soil evaporation
(Crop ETc) relative to that lost by evaporation from the USWB Class A Pan evaporimeter over the
same period. Experimental estimates of crop factors for different crop growth stages have been
worked out gravimetrically with soil samples, volumetrically with drainage lysimeters or
physiologically by measurement of transpiration loss by several workers. The daily requirement in
millimeters is converted to the equivalent volumetric quantity for the area under drip (1 mm = 10
m3/ha). A field irrigation schedule prepared based on crop coefficient approach for irrigating banana
grown in Tropical conditions of India is presented in Table 5 for field application.
Table 5. Banana water requirement under tropical zone of India
Epan ETo Water requirement/ha
Month Kpan Kc mm/day m3/day m3/month
(mm/day) (mm/day)
June 5.3 0.75 3.975 0.50 1.987 19.87 596.10
July 3.4 0.75 2.550 0.60 1.530 15.30 474.30

August 3.8 0.75 2.850 0.70 1.995 19.95 618.45
September 3.5 0.75 2.625 0.80 2.100 21.00 630.00
October 4.3 0.75 3.225 0.85 2.741 27.41 849.71
November 4.0 0.75 3.000 1.00 3.000 30.00 900.00
December 3.3 0.75 2.475 1.10 2.722 27.22 843.82
January 3.7 0.75 2.775 1.10 3.052 30.52 946.12
February 5.0 0.75 3.750 1.10 4.125 41.25 1155.00
March 6.1 0.75 4.575 0.90 4.117 41.17 1276.27
April 6.6 0.75 4.950 0.80 3.960 39.60 1188.00
May 7.4 0.75 5.550 0.80 4.440 44.40 1332.00
Seasonal crop water requirement 10809.77

18.5 Crop water requirements

Requires large quantities of water for maximum productivity
Depending on prevailing climatic conditions seasonal water requirements of banana range
from 1200 to 2690 mm from planting to harvest (Robinson and Alberts, 1989)
In semiarid Carnarvon, Western Australia the annual banana irrigation requirement was
estimated at 2000mm (annual evaporation=2580mm and rainfall= 227mm)
Daily water requirements vary in the range of 3 6 mm/day depending on the combination
of LAI, temperature, humidity, radiation & wind (Stover & Simmonds, 1987)
In the tropics, maximal Kc (ETc/Epan) is high and values range from 1.28 to 1.4 (Israeli
and Nameri, 1987)
In the subtropics, maximal summer Kc is somewhat lower at 0.8 to 1.0, decreasing to 0.6
in winter (Robinson and Alberts, 1989).

18.6 Drip irrigated banana

In Hawaii, India and Israel drip irrigation is reported to be the most successful system for
bananas (Young et.al., 1985; Hegde and Srinivas, 1989; Lahav and Kalmar, 1981)
In Israel banana production is entirely dependent on drip irrigation @ 1050 mm/year in
Western Galilee and 1500 mm/year in the Jordan Valley) since the annual rainfall of 400
600 mm falls entirely in winter when no growth occurs.
Leaf emergence rate was slower in sprinkler irrigated crop in comparison to drip irrigated
plants, leading to extended vegetative cycle duration (Fig. 25) (Robinson and Alberts,

Fig.25. Influence of sprinkler and drip irrigation systems on leaf emergence
rate in cultivar Williams

Drip irrigated banana yield and yield components grown under semi-arid conditions were
shown to be positively correlated to pan factor that ranged from 0.25 to 1.25 (Fig. 26)
(Goenaga and Irrizary, 1995, 1998 & 2000) and 0.2 to 1.8 (Young et.al., 1985).
Drip irrigated bananas in Hawaii produced double the yield when compared to well
managed sprinkler irrigated banana-plantation (Young et.al., 1985). Likewise in India drip
irrigated banana based on pan factor 0.4 to 1.2 gave yield improvement of 52.2% over
surface irrigated crop (see Fig. 18) (Singh, 2002).

Fig.26. Relationship between pan evaporation factor and bunch weight, hands
per bunch and bunch yield in banana

In drip irrigated fields, irrigation intervals are usually daily irrespective of Epan or even in
pulses several times per day. Water is applied according to the formula Epan (previous
day) x Kc (seasonal value or stage-wise value).
A summary of banana crop water requirements under variable climates in different
countries are given in Table 6.
Table 6. Irrigation scheduling approaches in banana in different countries
(Stover and Simmonds, 1987)
Source Location Water requirements mm/week
Arscott et. al. (1965) Honduras (Upper Aguan Valley)
Aubert (1968) Ecuador 30 37
Ghavami (1973 & 1974) Honduras (Sula Valley) 1.3 x Class A pan 44
Meyer (1979) Martinique 1.2 x Class A pan 31
Da Silva et al. (1977) Brazil (Paraiba) (7S) 0.5 x Class A pan 28
Moreira (1968) Brazil (Campinas) (23S) 25 45
Bovee (1975) Lebanon 0.82-1.0 x Class A pan 40
Bredell et al. (1978) South Africa 0.90 x Class A pan ---
Robinson (1981) South Africa 0.80 x Class A pan 25 44
Lahav & Kalmar (1981) Israel 0.90 x Class A pan ---
Holder & Gumbs (1983) St. Lucia ---- 10 18
Trochoulias & Murison (1981) Australia (NSW) 0.6 x Class A pan 11 18
Hegde & Srinivas (1989) Bangalore, India 0.8 - 1.0 x Class A pan --
18.6 Scheduling irrigation with Tensiometer

Banana irrigations are often scheduled by monitoring soil water potential with a
tensiometer. A tensiometer is a sealed, water-filled tube equipped with a vacuum gauge on the
upper end and a porous ceramic tip on the lower end (Fig. 27). Plant roots undergo stress as they
pull the water out of a soil matrix. The advantage of this instrument is that it records directly this
stress in terms of soil water potential at which a banana root has to extract water from the soil, on a
scale from 0 to 100 kPa. It integrates the effects of all variables viz., plant soil-climate affecting
water availability into a single entity, which can be measured on the tensiometer as a practical
index of water stress. However, for tensiometer to be a reliable tool for scheduling irrigations, the
installation, placement, maintenance, replication and reading of the instruments must be optimal.
Then, of course, the soil water potential threshold at which to irrigate the banana crop must be

Fig. 27. Tensiometer for irrigation scheduling

There have been many attempts to correlate banana yields or physiological processes with
levels of soil water potential. In general it appears that the optimum soil water potential range for
optimum growth is from field water capacity to 20 kPa. Stomatal conductance and photosynthesis
start to be adversely affected at soil water potential more negative than this (Fig. 24) (Eckstein,
At a soil water potential of 40 kPa and lower (negatively more), yields become
significantly depressed. Under tropical climate the soil will take from one to three days to dry out
from field water capacity to 20 kPa, depending on canopy cover, season, soil type and

evaporative demand of the atmosphere. The relationship between soil water potential measured by
a tensiometer and yield of banana is illustrated in Fig. 28 for different environments (Hegde, 1988;
Robinson & Alberts, 1989; Hill, 1990).

Fig.28. Bunch yield versus soil water potential in different environments

19. Fertigation
One of the most important challenges faced by the banana farmers today is to provide
crops with optimal quantity of water and nutrients in the most cost efficient manner possible. For
intensive crop production, the best answer to this challenge is Fertigation, fertilization via the
irrigation system. Fertilization via drip irrigation system besides irrigation is the most important
management factor through which farmers control plant development, fruit yield and quality. The
introduction of simultaneous irrigation and fertilization (Fertigation) opened up new possibilities for
controlling water and nutrient supplies to crops and maintaining the desired concentration and
distribution of ions and water in the soil.
Thousands of banana farmers around the world including Israel, India, Philippines, Brazil,
Australia, South Africa, Hawaii, Puerto Rico etc have already learnt to appreciate the advantages of
precise water supply to crops through investment in a drip irrigation system. In the last few years a
rapidly growing number have also realized that once a drip irrigation system is installed, it is easy

to achieve its full benefits through the next natural step Fertigation. Fertigation ensures that
essential nutrients are supplied precisely at the area of most intensive root activity.

19.1 Potential advantages of fertigation

The main advantages of drip fertigation over drip irrigation combined broadcast or banding
fertilization can be summarized as follows:
a) Reduced time fluctuation in nutrient concentrations in soil in the course of the growing
season, because of the flexibility in delivery of nutrients and water. Theoretically when
curves of yield response to nutrients and water are convex and monotonic, time
fluctuations of nutrient and water contents in soil cause reduction in yield. The attenuated
fluctuations under microfertigation therefore ensure higher and more consistent yields
relative to broadcast fertilization.
b) Easy adaptation of the amounts and concentrations of specific nutrients to crop
requirements, according to the stage development and climatic conditions
c) Convenient use of compound, ready-mix and balanced liquid fertilizers with minute
concentrations of minor elements that are otherwise very difficult to apply accurately to the
d) The crop foliage remains dry, thus retarding development of plant pathogens and avoiding
leaf burn
e) Precise application of nutrients according to crop demand, thus avoiding excess fertilizer
concentrations in the soil and leaching out of the wetted soil root volume
f) Application of water and fertilizers to only a part of the soil volume; the addition of nutrients
only to wetted area, where active roots are concentrated, enhances fertilizer use efficiency
(> 85%) and reduces leaching of nutrients to deep underground water by seasonal rains
g) It is unaffected by wind and causes less runoff than overhead sprinkler irrigation
h) It reduces labour requirement and heavy tractor traffic in the field, associated with the
broadcasting of fertilizers, and allows easy application of nutrients via the water when top-
dressing is expensive because of plant height

19.2 Fertigation methods & equipment

There are two major methods of fertigation viz., quantitative and proportional, which are
chosen according to soil type and equipment availability.


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