Optimizing supplemental irrigation: Tradeoffs between profitability and sustainability
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Water production functions are used to model yield response to various levels of supplemental irrigation (SI), to assess water productivity coefficients, and to identify optimum irrigation under various input–output price scenarios. The SI production function is taken as the difference between the total water production function (irrigation + rain) and that of rainwater. Theoretical analysis of the unconstrained objective function shows that the seasonal depth of SI to maximize profit occurs when the marginal product of water equals the ratio of unit water cost to unit product sale price. Applying this analysis to wheat in northern Syria, the production functions of SI under different rainfall conditions are developed. Coupled with current and projected water costs and wheat sale prices, the functions are used to develop an easy-to-use chart for determining seasonal irrigation rates to maximize profit under a range of seasonal rainfall amounts. Results show that, for a given seasonal rainfall, there is a critical value for the ratio of irrigation cost to production price beyond which SI becomes less profitable than rainfed production. Higher product prices and lower irrigation costs encourage the use of more water. Policies supporting high wheat prices and low irrigation costs encourage maximizing yields but with low water productivity. The resulting farmer practice threatens the sustainability of water resources. Balancing profitability versus sustainability is a challenge for policy makers. Our analysis can help national and local water authorities and policy makers determine appropriate policies for water valuation and allocation; and assist extension services and farmers in planning irrigation infrastructure and farm water management.