Last month I got to meet a couple of Madera county almond growers who overcame adversity in a big way. To Tom and Dan Rogers the drought was more than a business problem – it was a catastrophe when one of their two wells went dry and there were no well drillers available. they faced severe losses. Necessity being the mother of invention, it forced them to develop a new technique of irrigating in short pulses to thriftily maintain the ideal amount of water in the root zone.
They laid out 7 separate irrigation lines to cover their 175 acres of almonds. They calculated they had enough water to irrigate each line for 30 minutes at a time – a pulse of water delivered by micro sprinklers. Each line got a 30 minute pulse 6 times a day.
It worked. The trees not only survived, they thrived with the frequent short bursts. They had found a better way to water.
Their pulse irrigation method utilizes new technology to monitor their trees’ water, and now reduces their water demand by at least 20 per cent.
They had devised this system out of necessity, but it was incredibly labor intensive. They were changing 7 separate sets, 6 times a day, every day.
So Tom did his research and found that automated valves would save him tremendous amounts of time and labor. The brothers enlisted the aid of Guillermo Valenzuela and his company, WiseConn. They built a computerized control system that opens and closes the irrigation valves on a schedule of 30 minute bursts. Their key criteria was keeping the water in the root zone. They installed three monitoring stations with sensors at various depths, down to four feet. The usual root ball of an almond tree is about 3 feet, so they don’t want to see water at the four foot level.
The system is working. Tom says that developing his network of sensors and actuators was not a simple project, but it was worth the effort. He says they have cut at least 20 per cent of their current water usage. The savings has paid for the system many times over.
If you’d like more information, see my article on page 29 in the December 2016 issue of West Coast Nut.