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Irrigation and drainage
Evolution of irrigation development
In order to increase yields, improve quality and secure production, experiments with sprinkler irrigation on vegetable plantations, early potatoes and sugar beet started in the 1970s. The first sprinkler systems were installed on the “Peternicki” experimental farm in the Jelgava district and then on the “Uzvara” kolkhoz in the Bauska district and on the “Kekava” kolkhoz in the Riga district, all in the Zemgale plain. All irrigation was sprinkler irrigation.
In 2013, total area equipped for irrigation was estimated at 630 ha which was only about 0.1 percent of the total cultivated area. Actually irrigated area accounted for 410 ha, which was only about two thirds of the area equipped for irrigation in that year (Table 5). Irrigation in general is supplementary irrigation. In 2007, out of the total irrigation area of 830 ha, 93 percent was irrigated by surface water and 7 percent by groundwater (Figure 3).
Role of irrigation in agricultural production, economy and society
In 2007, the total harvested irrigated crop area was 620 ha, of which 50 percent were potatoes and 50 percent vegetables (Table 5 and Figure 4).
Status and evolution of drainage systems
For agriculture, drainage is more important than irrigation. Over 90 percent of the agricultural land in Latvia can be intensively cultivated only if drained.
The more important works connected with land drainage started in the eighteenth century in the east of the country. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, large-scale hydraulic works were carried out on the Bera, Auce, Riva and Lielupe rivers; dikes were built along the Roja, Abava, Riva and Pededze rivers; and the Starpinupe canal connecting Lake Kanieris with the Gulf of Riga was constructed. In the middle of the nineteenth century, a canal connecting Lake Lubans with the Aiviekste river was constructed. Subsurface drainage started in 1850. Until 1924, all hydraulic works were carried out without the use of any machinery. In 1924, machines and excavators were purchased, which facilitated the excavation of cross-cuts, made it possible to straighten riverbeds and to shape new ones. The first land improvement act was passed in 1937.
By 1995, almost 1.6 million ha, including agricultural land, meadows, pastures and land used for construction, had been drained. Most of this area, around 96 percent, was provided with subsurface drains, using ceramic or polymer pipes. The state only financed improvements and maintenance of the system. For 1996 and 1997, $US 3.3 million were earmarked for these purposes.
In 1994, fodder crops covered a large part of the drained area, followed by cereals, vegetables, potatoes and industrial plants. In that year, the drained lands produced 80 percent of all vegetable production. It is assumed that, generally, crop yields on drained land are 20-25 percent higher than those on undrained land.