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Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

The irrigation potential in the country has been estimated at 200 000 ha.

In the 1970s, in the Nemunas river delta about 40 000 ha of meadows in polders were protected by dams against flooding. About 100 pumping stations had been installed to remove excess water in periods of flood. However, since this led to moisture deficit in dry periods sluices were installed in the polders, enabling to regulate the water level in the ditches and to irrigate in the driest periods. In 1976, 2 200 such systems, called sluice systems, were exploited. However, these systems were not used for long as sprinkler irrigation soon proved to be a more effective system of irrigation under Lithuanian conditions.

Since 1965, a lot of research on sprinkler irrigation has been carried out. The first sprinkler irrigation systems were installed in 1965 in the Kaunas and KŰdainiai districts in the centre, where for some time domestic wastewater was used for irrigation. However, after an outbreak of cholera in the region in about 1970, the use of domestic wastewater for irrigation was forbidden. In the period 1973-1985, 33 industrial pig complexes were built. Irrigation systems were installed on 6 600 ha close to these complexes, using the dung as fertilizer.

During the period 1970-1990, the construction of irrigation systems was rather expensive because of the need for reservoir construction. Nevertheless, irrigation systems increased rapidly. By the end of 1970, irrigation covered 5 100 ha. In 1975 and in 1990 it was 22 300 and 42 700 ha respectively.

During the Soviet period, large irrigation systems were installed (100-200 ha) on kolkhoz (collective farms) and sovkhoz (state farms). After they were broken up, private owners started working on small plots (8-20 ha) and many of the large irrigation systems stopped functioning. This is the reason for the rapid decrease in irrigation after the independence. While 42 700 ha were equipped for irrigation in 1990, only 9 247 ha were left equipped for irrigation in 1995. The rest of the system has largely been destroyed, as farmers have not been interested in using large, costly irrigation schemes.

At present, irrigation systems are not popular since equipment is expensive and, in many parts of the country rainfed cropping is very well possible. In 2012, the total area equipped for irrigation was estimated at 4 440 ha, which represents only 0.2 percent of total cultivated area (Table 5). In 2010 actually irrigated area accounted for 1 532 ha, which was only about one third of the area equipped for irrigation in that year.

In 2010, out of the total of 120 farms in the country that used irrigation, 56 farms used surface irrigation, 36 farms used sprinkler irrigation and 56 farms used localized irrigation. In that same year, 19 farms used on-farm groundwater, 66 farms used on-farm surface water (ponds or dams), 33 percent used off-farm surface water from lakes, rivers or watercourses, 10 farms used off-farm water from common water supply networks, and 10 farms used other sources of water. Out of those 120 farms, 72 farms were smaller than 2 ha, 15 farms had an area of 2-5 ha, 10 farms of 5-10 ha, 7 farms of 10-20 ha, 5 farms of 20-50 ha, 5 farms of 50-100 ha and 6 ha larger than 100 ha (Statistics Lithuania, 2012).

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, economy and society

In 2010, the actually irrigated area was 1 532 ha, of which 642 ha or 42 percent were potatoes, 614 ha or 40 percent vegetables and strawberries, 101 ha or 7 percent other temporary crops, 82 ha or 5 percent fruit trees and berry plants and 92 ha or 6 percent permanent meadows and pastures (Statistics Lithuania, 2012) (Table 5 and Figure 3).

Status and evolution of drainage systems

The main issue in relation to agriculture in Lithuania is the removal of excess water to enable cropping. In ancient times, Lithuanians removed excess moisture from fields by furrowing them, using a special way of ploughing, or by making ditches. The first subsurface drainage systems are said to have been installed in 1855. Drainage works increased significantly at the beginning of the twentieth century, starting with the beginning of cultivation in the Nemunas river delta. In 1918, about 5 900 ha were known to be drained. In 1939, 14 800 ha of land were intensively drained, including 11 800 ha by subsurface drainage. In addition, 457 700 ha of land were drained extensively. Around 1 million ha of wetland had been drained by 1970 and 2 million ha by 1978. In 1995, the total drained area was estimated at about 3 million ha, of which 2.6 million ha, or 86 percent, were equipped with subsurface drainage systems. The total length of subsurface drainage lines is almost 1.6 million km. It is calculated that drainage systems have been installed on 90 percent of the area needing drainage, which is estimated at almost 3.4 million ha, which is more than half of the total area of the country. In fact, the country remains one of the most extensively drained countries in the world (Povilaitisa et al, 2014).


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