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Modern Irrigration

Research > Services > Agricultural Services > Agricultural Engineering
Farmers Step up to Modern Irrigation

By Trevor Falloon and Lancelot White

Major changes bringing cane farmers into the 21st Century are occurring in the irrigated belt. A group of 18 growers in the Content region of Clarendon have formed themselves into the Content Pivot Group and are benefiting from a centre pivot covering 60.08 hectares (some 148 acres). Five other small farms in Clarendon and three in St Catherine totalling 23 hectares (roughly 57 acres) are also being wet by drip irrigation.


These methods of water application represent the latest in irrigation technology. The scheme is part of a project funded by the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), an agency of the United Nations headquartered in Amsterdam. Under this project, selected farmers also benefit from having nurseries of the latest varieties established on their farms to provide a ready supply of good quality cane seed to growers within their areas. Some farmers also participate in evaluating these recently released varieties on their own farm plots. Several demonstration plots showing best practices from planting to harvesting and ratoon maintenance have been established across the industry and growers are taken to field days wherever matters of interest are being highlighted. The issue of yield decline is being addressed by crop rotation on some farms. A study of various farm modules is being done to determine which combinations of inputs are more profitable in various settings. Finally, the results of all this will be made available to cane growers locally and abroad.

Group of farmers gathered for launch of CFC centre pivot irrigation project, Content Clarendon

Work started on the centre pivot project in 2004. In selecting the site the main objectives were to find a relatively flat zone with a convenient and reliable water source and a land surface free of impediments such as public roads, farm houses, utility poles major gullies, orchards, forests etc. The Content area met all those conditions. Water was available from the National Irrigation Council (NIC) canal. There was a cluster of farmers engaged primarily in cane production. No public roads or utility poles crossed the area.
Farmers in the area selected were called to a meeting and told of the prospects. They would be upgraded from the traditional wasteful furrow irrigation to the modern efficient centre pivot sprinkler system. Another meeting was called to form them into a Water User Group that would manage their affairs. A Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer were selected and plans made to open a bank account in the Group’s name. Members also volunteered to be specially trained to operate the pivot.

Funds used by the CFC to replant or cultivate fields for the growers involved would be collected as an interest-free loan, repayable over three years, and lodged to the Group’s bank account to serve exclusively as a start up reserve fund for operating and maintaining the system. The group would also agree to the withdrawal of a fee from cane sales from the area covered by the pivot. This fee, estimated to cover the cost of electricity and water charges, would also be lodged to the account so that after the formal end of the CFC project the scheme would be self-sustaining. The Group would, from time to time, review the accounts to determine whether this fee needed to be increased or decreased, depending on actual cost of operation.

Installation of the pivot was beset by a series of problems resulting in delays. For instance, half way through construction in 2004 the machine had to be dismantled and taken back to the warehouse for safe storage during the passage of hurricane Ivan. Nonetheless assembly was essentially complete by the end of the year. Cane growers from the project area are registered at the Monymusk factory. Delays in start up of that factory in 2005 meant the land could not be cleared for a proper inspection of the path to be traversed by the pivot wheels to determine points requiring installation of culverts, bridges etc. By the time that inspection was done the rainy season intervened and the normally dry month of July saw the passage off the coast of two hurricanes making the area too soggy for movement of the machine. The first test run was eventually carried out in August and the system has since been in operation with ongoing minor adjustments.
Growers have now taken control of the system and are continuing efforts to improve the standard of agriculture to take full advantage of benefits of efficient irrigation.


In 2005, a new phase of irrigation projects was started with the contract being awarded for installation of drip irrigation systems on small plots on eight farmers’ holdings. Farms selected had to have adequately pressurised, reliable water source, and an existing hydrant. The growers would have to show a commitment to cane farming and have a track record of following recommendations from SIRI.

Wet weather during the implementation phase caused an adjustment to the planned sequence of operations. Land should have been prepared and tubes installed prior to planting. However, with fields wet and inaccessible to machinery following land preparation, the decision was taken to plant the canes and insert the tubes after sufficient drying out had occurred. The growers inserted dibbled tops, for the most part, on either side of each bank. Results were not always most satisfactory but there was considerable saving of time by planting before tube insertion.
By September, most of the eight fields were fully established in canes and tubes were laid. Earlier planted fields showed good establishment and cane was growing vigorously.
Drip tubes were buried to protect them against damage during cultivation and harvesting. Each tube was laid between two rows of cane, 18 inches apart, atop each bank so that a denser stand of cane would result. Distance between banks was the normal 5’6.” Growers were provided seed cane of newer recommended varieties.

Growers participating in these projects have the weighty responsibility of demonstrating that, given the best technology, they too can produce cane profitably. Their successful performance under this project will send a signal to other growers that cane farming can be viable in the new sugar cane industry being developed. What is more, their performance will be keenly followed across the world by cane growers who face challenges similar to those confronting the Jamaican grower. Indeed, results of this project will be disseminated to other cane producing countries which are members of the CFC.


Selection of growers for these ventures has been the job of the SIRI Extension officers, James Fearon, Delroy Golding and Monroe Curtis serving the areas of Clarendon and Lower St Catherine. This project is being executed in an atmosphere of great uncertainty about the future of sugar. Extension officers often go beyond just persuading the grower to participate but assist him to carry out recommended agronomic practices and convince him to keep faith even in the face of delays. Commendation must also be given to SIRI officers Lloyd Pinnock and Keith Grant who, working tirelessly, were largely instrumental in site preparation and laying drip irrigation tubes to plan at the various locations. Accessing the newer varieties for establishing the various plots would not have been possible without the assistance of Malcolm Easy and his team of variety specialists. All in all, this has been a tremendous team effort by the SIRI staff including many unnamed in the fields of agronomy, weed control, nutrition, mechanical engineering etc – but this marks only the beginning. The ongoing challenge is to see this project through to fruition. Ultimately, the measure of success will be whether growers’ productivity is boosted sufficiently to ensure farm viability.

CFC project: Centre pivot assembled, Content, Clarendon

CFC drip irrigation plot: land prepared, drip tubes inserted and connected to hydrant (right), Lakes Pen, St Catherine

CFC, drip irrigation plot, 2 months after planting (sorrel at field edge) Lakes Pen, St Catherine

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