Different crops do not need the same amount of raw inputs to grow and thrive. Depending on what kind of plants you’re growing, you may provide more or less fertilizer or pesticides, for example. Water is a giant variable, with some crops being thirstier than others. And when it comes to watering fields and orchards, different types of soil hold varying levels of moisture.
So during conditions of drought or when water is just becoming less accessible for other reasons (such as developers contending over water rights in a community), it’s smart to look at options to save water while still yielding the same amount of crops at harvest time.
California is a major agricultural state, with sufficient access to water meaning the difference between healthy crop production and fields growing dusty and barren.
As the Golden State deals with the threat of water shortages and how to manage water distribution, one approach involves intense precision irrigation.
Rather than soaking orchards with water that leads to wasteful over-irrigation, a controlled method of distribution is a solution to use when water is scarce.
One farm is using 26 different irrigation systems to deal with irregular soil quality. Leon Etchepare owns Emerald Farms with his father Allen in Maxwell, CA.
They are raising 2,600 acres of walnut trees and 1,700 acres of almond trees, along with about 12 vegetable crops. The farm has been in their family since its founding in 1918 by Etchepares’ great grandfather, according to Growing Produce.
Etchepare said, “You can only improve soil health so much. After all, if you’re farming in rocky soil, you’re not going to change it into a rich loam. One thing you can control, however, is the moisture level of the dirt you’re farming.”
He and his father stopped flood irrigating. The wasteful practice wasn’t optimizing the trees’ growth. Then, Emerald Farms purchased a new 500-acre parcel in Artois near their walnuts and almond orchards and decided to experiment with precision irrigation.
They set up the field with 26 separate irrigation sections. Each 1.5-acre section is based on a particular soil type. The farmers set up 34 valves to control the irrigation system spread over the 500 acres.
“It’s all about soil health and soil type. If you don’t have healthy soils, you don’t have healthy trees,” said Etchepare.
The fact that farmers are adopting techniques like precision irrigating to help make the most out of limited supplies of water should give us a level of confidence that the agriculture industry will continue to adapt and grow as it faces new challenges.
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