Deeper Irrigation Method Showing Promise For Vineyards

A new subsurface irrigation system is showing promise for slashing water usage in vineyards.

Many vineyards use drip lines that saturate the top layer of soil, making grapevines dependent on surface moisture. But Pete Jacoby, a Professor and Plant Ecologist at Washington State University, wanted to see if whether a subsurface system could put water deeper underground, forcing the grapevines to extend their root zones and stressing the plants slightly, which growers tend to do anyway before harvest. By extending root zones, grapevines would be able to access water deeper in the ground, requiring less irrigation.

He modeled the system on buried irrigation lines in the Midwest for row crops. Those lines are buried in trenches but tend to clog when they come into contact with soil. Burrowing rodents can also chew on and damage buried lines.

Jacoby’s system relies on overhead feeder lines already present in many vineyards. A ⅛-inch spaghetti hose goes from that feeder line into the ground where it connects to a pressure-compensated emitter that injects water into the soil at varying depths of 1 foot to 4 feet. The grower could customize the system to irrigate more or less depending on local weather and the amount of stress desired.

“We’re trying these at much deeper depths to create a dry zone beneath the vines,” Jacoby says. “The root system tends to be concentrated in the top 18 inches of the soil. We’re sort of hardening these vines up a little bit by cutting back on the amount of water these vines are receiving and forcing them to go deeper.”

The system is still in the proof-of-concept stage and trials are being held at a commercial vineyard. In 2015, using 60% of the water used throughout the rest of the vineyard, Jacoby’s experimental vines yielded 90%. At 30% of the water, they yielded 75%. And at 15% water, they yielded 70%.

Continued trials will help determine the best depths and amounts of water required to sustain high yields.

Jacoby says he recently received funding to also study grape quality with his irrigation system. He plans to submit grapes for testing this fall.

“If there are differences in grape quality, we will pursue additional funding to better quantify these factors that could lead to producing high-quality, premium wines with direct root-zone micro-irrigation,” he says.

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6 comments on “Deeper Irrigation Method Showing Promise For Vineyards

  1. We installed this sort of system several years ago at one of our vineyards, as we are on a metered well and were using more than our allotted amount of water. The vineyard where we chose to do this is a very rocky little knoll, so with our regular drip irrigation, water was running down the hillside and/or evaporating before it could sink in. We inserted a PVC pipe about 18 to 24″ into the soil that we then put the spaghetti hose into. This has saved us so much water! Probably about 40 to 50%! We are planning on doing this at our other vineyard, where our wells continually have a hard time keeping up with water needs during hot spells.

  2. System used for years in a vineyard in NM by New Mexico wineries….. It is burried in the ground like a soaking hose….

  3. i am Andrew Alagoa french born Nigerian,i am the program director with mworld teens foundation WHICH IS A VERY YOUNG FOUNDATIONS AS REGARDS TO SEEKING PARTNERSHIP TO MEET THE MALNUTRITION GAP FOR CHILDREN PARTICULARLY,i wish to use this medium to encourage investors in large scale farming to come to Nigeria as we also partner our produce production in the USA since the administration of then Bill Clinton passed a bill CALLED AFRICAN GROWTH OPPORTUNITY ACT (A.G.O.A).

  4. This is of high interest to us at Kiler Canyon Vineyard, Paso Robles. Wondering how buried drippers perform over time. Is root intrusion a problem?

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