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Precision technologies key to sustainable Saudi agriculture

Saudi Arabia: Agriculture in Saudi Arabia consumes about 90% of the water used in the country. The efficient use of finite water resources is essential for attaining sustainability of agriculture and protection of the fragile environment in the Kingdom. Precision Agriculture Research Chair (PARC) of King Saud University (KSU) has been implementing applied research projects funded by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) under the National Plan for Science and Technology (NPST) in order to develop efficient ways of utilising water in the agriculture sector.

PARC employs Precision Agriculture (PA) technologies to achieve this overarching goal. According to Dr. Khalid Al-Gaadi, Director of PARC, the science of Precision Agriculture (PA) is quite new to this region and for the first time in the Middle East, research on PA has been initiated by KSU, represented by PARC. Precision agriculture implies application of inputs such as seed, water, fertilizers and pesticides in the right amounts, at the right time, at the right place and in the right manner. PA helps farmers optimise use of inputs that results in increasing the agricultural economic efficiency and environment protection.

PA involves assessment, management and monitoring of spatial and temporal variability in soil properties and crop growth parameters. In order to implement PA, cutting edge technologies, such as Remote Sensing, GIS, GPS, Information and Communication Technologies, Sensor Technologies, Wireless Sensor Networks, Yield mapping and Variable Rate Technologies (VRT) are employed.

Participatory mode is being carried out on two commercial farms in Haradh and Al-Kharj regions, one of which belongs to the National Agricultural Development Company (NADEC). KSU, represented by PARC, and NADEC signed an MOU in June 2011 for undertaking collaborative research work. The PA research is carried out to implement two projects funded by KACST under NPST. These projects are — precision fertigation for sustainable agriculture in Saudi Arabia; and water productivity mapping and assessment of irrigation performance for irrigation water conservation, a study in Al-Kharj region. The main goal of both projects is to optimise the use of resources, such as water and fertilizers, in agriculture. State of the art Precision Agriculture laboratory has been established in PARC. The laboratory is equipped with most of the high-end technology instruments that are necessary to carry out the advanced PA research in the field of agriculture.

According to Dr. Al-Gaadi, the initial results of the study are highly promising. These results have indicated that a saving in the total quantity of water of 20 percent (6260 m3 of water/ha/year) in alfalfa and 30percent (2280 m3 of water/ha/season) in wheat can be achieved without sacrificing the yield of crops. At the national level, this saving is translated into more than 775 million m3 of water per year for a total alfalfa cultivated area of 123,837 ha in 2011. For wheat, the saving is more than 439.5 million m3 of irrigation water per season considering a total wheat cultivated area of 192,818 ha during 2011 season. This substantial water saving in a scarce resource in the Kingdom is crucial and has national and strategic dimensions. This water saving in irrigation water was achieved by the adoption of the Precision Fertigation (PF) techniques.

Source: Saudi Gazette