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Supplemental irrigation (SI) can be defined as the addition of small amounts of water to essentially rainfed crops during times when rainfall fails to provide sufficient moisture for normal plant growth, in order to improve and stabilize yields. SI in areas with limited water resources is based on the following three premises:

  • Water is applied to a rain-fed crop which would normally produce some yield without irrigation.

  • Since precipitation is the principal source of moisture for rain-fed crops, SI is only applied when precipitation fails to provide essential moisture for improved and stabilized production.

  • The amount and timing of SI are not scheduled to provide moisture-stress-free conditions throughout the growing season, but to ensure that the minimum amount of water required for optimal (not maximum) yield is available during the critical stages of crop growth.

Supplemental irrigation is the opposite of full or conventional irrigation (FI). In the latter, the principal source of moisture is fully controlled irrigation water, and highly variable limited precipitation is only supplementary. SI is dependent on the precipitation of a basic source of water for the crop.


Water for supplemental irrigation comes mainly from surface sources, but shallow groundwater aquifers increasingly are being used. Among non-conventional water resources that have potential for the future, such as treated sewage water-harvesting is also important.