In the hilly region of Yen Bai in the north of Vietnam, many farmers have been encouraged to replace their tea gardens with fruit trees, specifically citrus to diversify the cropping in the region. Citrus is suited to well-drained soils of Yen Bai and non-irrigated cropping is profitable. However, there is a period of the year where the perennial trees are subject to some water stress. During this short period, fruit yield and quality are potentially impacted.
The DeRISK Southeast Asia project, with the irrigation component led by the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in collaboration with the Vietnam National University of Agriculture (VNUA), has instrumented Mr. Minh’s citrus orchard with a range of soil moisture, weather, and flow monitoring hardware. COVID-19 travel restrictions meant that the USQ team with irrigation engineering expertise was not able to assist with the design and installation on site. By navigating through this challenge, the USQ team worked closely with the team from VNUA and a local supplier to design and install the hardware with remote supervision through the social networking tool WhatsApp (picture). A precision under tree micro-sprinkler system was designed to meet both the demonstration requirements but also the farmer’s future requirements for expansion of his orchard after the project.
The VNUA team visited the site along with a representative from the irrigation supplier Netafim. WhatsApp was used to send and receive messages, photos, and videos throughout the following two days as the system was installed. The USQ team provided real-time advice on tips and time-savers for the field team. Videos were shared to show the operating pressures and measurements of the flow rate in the system. The farmer was able to easily negotiate changes to the irrigation mainline and the inclusion of a simple fertigation valve to improve the precision dosing and application of soluble fertilizers.
Finally, a commissioning test involving checking pressures and measuring the distribution uniformity of the system was undertaken with positive results. While nothing can take the place of being in the field and troubleshooting with partners, the WhatsApp platform provided an opportunity for real-time feedback on the installation and commissioning of the installation in Yen Bai. With Mr. Minh very satisfied with the system, the project has demonstrated the commercial value of precision irrigation in citrus orchards in northern Vietnam.