Posts Tagged: irrigation
The Wall Street Journal today ran a brief article about California's water situation as part of its Innovations in Agriculture series.
Reporter Jim Carlton noted that California leads the nation in farm revenue, but is also one of the country's driest states, and most populous. How do we do it?
"If you have limited water supplies, you have to be as careful and efficient as you can with it," says Larry Schwankl, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis.
The article described advances in irrigation technology that have enabled farmers to improve irrigation efficiency.
Micro-sprinklers, such as those shown above watering almonds, are much more efficient than flood irrigation.
The Hansen Research and Extension Center hosted a water workshop this week, touching on a topic that is one of the University of California's top priorities, according to an article in the Ventura County Star.
“We want to make sure the community knows about what Hansen is doing and share some of the research sponsored by Hansen," the story quoted Jose de Soto, the center director.
Sixty to 90 percent of residential water is used outside the home, but typically gardeners irrigate based on estimates of plant water needs, Ventura County farm advisor Jim Downer said.
“They are not research-based,” Downer was quoted in the article. “They are based on what people think will happen.”
Downer said he has established plants in four different climates of California, watering them at varying rates to measure the needed usage.
“We’re not growing crops or looking for yield. If it looks good, there’s no need to water,” Downer said.
Proper irrigation saves water.
The Bakersfield Californian reported that it isn't just the listless economy ravaging Kern County agriculture. The industry's woes are pinned on water.
Reporter Courtenay Edelhart spoke to the director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, Dan Sumner, about the national economic downturn's impact on ag. With the exception of the dairy industry, Sumner said, agriculture prices haven't been that bad over the past year.
The state of California has, however, suffered three years of drought - with implications that even last month's series of storms cannot reverse. The Bakersfield area had 5.10 inches of rain between July 2008 and June 2009, and only 2.38 inches during the same period a year earlier, the article said.
But even more significantly, recent court and government actions regarding water allocations are not satisfying southern San Joaquin Valley agriculture's thirst.
- In 2008, a federal judge restricted pumping into agricultural canals from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect Delta smelt
- The California Department of Water Resources said it will only be able to deliver 5 percent of requested State Water Project water this year to the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, Central Coast and Southern California, although that figure may be updated next month
- The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation allowed only a 10 percent allocation for agriculture south of the delta.
The result: 40,000 acres of Kern County farmland aren't being farmed and, in December 2009, Kern County had 1,400 fewer farm jobs compared with December 2008.
Irrigating young cotton.
The idea was dropped after grower Andy Wilson raised objections to the plan saying the reclaimed water contains trace amounts of boron and sodium, which could accumulate in the soil and eventually kill trees. Instead, the city will sponsor a 10- to 15-year UC Riverside study to learn how boron affects trees and fruit.
According to the article, written by David Danelski, UCR soil chemistry professor Christopher Amrhein said Wilson had good reason to be concerned about the city's plan divert fresh water from the Gage and Riverside canals and replace it with the recycled wastewater from the city's sewage treatment plant.
"We basically told (city officials), 'We can't take your reclaimed water,' " Amrhein was quoted.
The city has used UC Davis agricultural engineering professor Mark Grismer as a consultant to counter arguments by UCR citrus experts that recycled water would harm the trees. The city's recycled water project is still in the works. The reclaimed water will be used to irrigate Martha McLean Anza Narrows Park, Fairmont Park and the future Tequesquite Park, and could also be used to recharge aquifers.
A frequent research collaborator with UC Cooperative Extension, West Side farmer John Diener made the front page of the Fresno Bee on Sunday with a story about the potential for water savings with a center-pivot irrigation system.
On airplane flights over middle America, passengers have for decades seen large circles made by center-pivot irrigation on the quilt of farmland landscape below. The system is just beginning to catch on in California, and Diener, working with UC, is an early adopter.
Diener told Bee reporter Robert Rodriguez that the pivot system is 10 to 20 percent more efficient than furrow irrigation.
"One of our challenges is how to water more efficiently and in a way where you can get a comparable or better yield from a conventional system," Diener was quoted in the story. "That is what we are after."
The article said growers searching for ways to improve their irrigation efficiency have packed meetings held by private companies, Fresno State and University of California researchers in recent months.
UC Davis Cooperative Extension vegetable crops specialist Jeff Mitchell is leading the center-pivot charge for UC. He said the irrigation system didn’t prosper in California when the technology was first introduced in the 1950s for a variety of reasons. Center-pivot systems weren't able to deliver enough water for plants sweltering in the valley’s summer heat and water didn’t infiltrate quickly enough to prevent runoff.
But the growing popularity of conservation tillage has farmers taking another look at center pivots. Under conservation tillage systems, crops are planted in the residue of a previous season crop or a cover crop. The residue keeps the soil more porous, allowing for quicker water infiltration. In addition, the dead plant material on the soil surface reduces evaporation, so farmers don’t need to apply as much water.
In an eight-acre West Side research plot, scientists are studying crop productivity, water use efficiency, economics and potential for reducing dust emissions with center-pivot irrigation. They will compare the results with crops grown under alternative practices, such as no-till production in a standard furrow-irrigated field and a furrow-irrigated plot managed with standard tillage practices.
Aerial view of center-pivot irrigation.