Borouge: Better plastics can improve drip irrigation

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Steve Toloken Chanchal Dasgupta

XI'AN, CHINA — Better quality plastic materials can improve productivity in India's drip irrigation industry, helping to overcome challenges that have kept the water-saving agricultural systems from being more widely used.

At least that's according to resin supplier Borouge Pte Ltd., which told a plastic conference recently that better materials can lower energy costs for drip tubing makers and reduce some of the manufacturing and quality problems that happen now from mixing different grades of polyethylene and masterbatch material, a common practice in the drip irrigation industry.

The company has developed a single grade of linear low density polyethylene, using its bimodal technology, that meets processing requirements for a wide variety of applications in the industry, said Chanchal Dasgupta, the Mumbai-based application marketing manager for pipe for Abu Dhabi-based Borouge, a joint venture of Vienna, Austria-based Borealis and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co.

"We would like to show our value proposition and show the customer that by using a more expensive material you are saving money," Dasgupta said. "That takes a bit of time. It has been successful with several large customers. Whatever we are producing we are able to sell in a short time."

He spoke in a presentation and interview at the 2013 International Plastic Pipe Exchange Conference, held Sept. 5-6 in Xi'an, China.

Drip irrigation systems, also called micro irrigation, use small plastic tubes and dispensing systems to deliver precise amounts of water directly to plants, rather than flooding a field under more traditional irrigation methods.

Drip advocates say they can reduce water use 30-75 percent compared with traditional flood irrigation.

But such drip systems can cost several times as much as sprinklers, a tough initial investment for some of the country's farmers, 80 percent of whom are small landholders with less than two hectares of soil under cultivation, Dasgupta said.

"Though the capacity of drip pipe manufacturing in India has grown very well over the past 15 years, the adoption has not been as strong as hoped," Borouge said in its paper. "The rate of adoption is still a long way short of full potential."

According to the Global Water Policy Project, India last year led the world last year in land under cultivation with micro irrigation, with nearly 2 million hectares, or about 5 million acres. But Borouge said the Ministry of Agriculture estimates the full potential for drip systems in India is 27 million hectares.

It said India has 17 percent of the world's population but only four percent of global water resources.

Dasgupta said Borouge is working with India's largest drip irrigation equipment suppliers and major international brands that sell into the country.