Improved Irrigation Scheduling

Improving Irrigation In Peaches

Like several others across the country, peach growers in the Southeast are faced with increased pressure to use water more efficiently. Pending legislation in the southeastern U.S., for example, could dictate how much surface water can be used for agricultural production.

Thanks to a grant from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture that is matched by USDA specialty crop block grant funding, researchers at Clemson University are working to make this process easier for growers. “We’re looking for a system where we can modernize and automate our irrigation so the tree is telling us when it needs water,” says Greg Henderson, an Extension agent at Clemson University. Henderson’s son Will, a precision agriculture specialist with Clemson’s Edisto Research and Education Center, actually wrote the grant for this research.

“We need a better mechanism to report how much surface water we are using, so we can show we actually have a minimal impact on this valuable resource,” says Henderson.

Henderson’s goal was to study peach orchards with the same soil type, but with variable soil texture levels. Using a Veris 3100 Soil EC mapping system, they developed a soil map on a selected test block at J.W. Yonce & Sons farm in South Carolina. As expected, the map indicated varying soil textures within the block, which meant that moisture movement should differ in each of the different soil zones.

The next step was to actually measure soil moisture and movement. To do this, Henderson and his team partnered with Earthtec Solutions, a New Jersey-based data collection and analysis company that specializes in water and nutrient movement in agricultural crop management systems, on the use of soil moisture sensors that emit electronic pulses to determine moisture levels. “We know that the primary area for root activity is in the top 12 to 16 inches, but will the tree use water from a deeper depth?”

Moisture measurements were taken anywhere from a 10-centimeter depth down to 100 centimeters. All data collected from the sensors was uploaded via cell phone to Earthtec’s laboratory. In addition to soil moisture, the sensors can track temperature, wind speed, rainfall, and humidity. “We can look at transpiration and see how much moisture we are losing,” says Henderson. “This tells us how much is available to the tree.”

Maximizing Moisture

Studies indicated that down to 6 inches, there is a gradual decline in soil moisture. At 12 inches, the tree is feeding from an area where it’s finding moisture and is more adaptive to taking it up. Down to 70 centimeters, moisture is simply migrating from one zone to the other.

At 8 inches, the tree is pulling moisture from the upper soil level and moving it down, indicating that in periods of dry weather, moisture moves rapidly from one soil profile to the next. However, the most revealing data came when the grower initiated irrigation. When soil moisture was pushed to full capacity, water was pushed down past the point where the tree would take it up. “Because of this, we can time our irrigation for shorter intervals,” says Henderson. “We only need to irrigate down to where the moisture is being utilized by the tree.” It may be necessary to irrigate more frequently, but at the benefit of shorter durations.

Thanks to a renewal in grant funding for another year, Henderson and his team are already planning their next steps. Two of their upcoming goals are to measure soluble salts in the soil to track nutrient movement, and to evaluate standard irrigation during the crop’s final swell, versus completely automatic irrigation, on resulting fruit yield and quality. “The tree will indicate to us when we need to add water, and the soil will tell us when we need to cut the water off,” says Henderson.

Long-Term Benefits

Henderson says this research has the potential to offer several benefits to growers in his area, including:

• Reduced reliance on labor, as irrigation will become more automated.

• Improved fruit quality. Henderson says the problem with over-irrigating is that you might push necessary plant nutrients past the zone where the tree would pick them up.

• Meeting the needs of expanded crop acreage with a limited water supply.

Earthtec Solutions’ David Lankford gave a talk on this topic at the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference in January, and Henderson says growers were highly intrigued. “One of our growers said it was the most eye-opening piece of data he’d ever seen,” says Henderson. “He is initiating the installation of these sensors in a good portion of his peach production.”

Unexpected Benefit

This past winter was unusually warm in the South, which put peach trees at risk of not getting enough required chill hours. As it turns out, however, the Earthtec soil moisture sensors were able to record chill hours and chill units. “We were able to look at bud break and management of our high-chill varieties, which we had not been able to do in the past,” says Greg Henderson. “This gives us a comparison we can look at for how to manage crops that do not meet their minimum chill hours, and what effects we might see from this. This was not associated with our grant, but we’ve been able to piggyback it, and it’s been really well received by growers.”

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories
Apples & PearsMarvin Sundquist Dies At 89
September 1, 2015
Marvin Sundquist, the retired owner of Sundquist Fruit and Cold Storage, died on Aug. 29 at the age of 89, Read More
Apples & PearsSyngenta Receives EPA Registration For Solatenol  Fungicide
September 1, 2015
The fungicide is available in four product offerings, pending state registrations. Read More
Grower Achievement AwardPero Family Farms Is The 2015 Grower Achievement Award Recipient
September 1, 2015
The farm family that runs this Delray Beach-FL based operation develops, produces, packages, and markets its fresh-cut products while continuing to think outside the box. Read More
Dennis P. Broadaway
CitrusFlorida Citrus Packers Bestows Association’s Highest Honor To One Of Its Own
September 1, 2015
For his dedication to the Sunshine State’s fresh citrus sector, Dennis Broadaway receives John T. Lesley Award for Excellence. Read More
Citrus Achievement AwardSaving Citrus A Perpetual Task
September 1, 2015
Orie Lee, the 2015 Citrus Achievement Award winner, talks about how growing citrus has changed in his lifetime and how it hasn't. Read More
Florida Ag Expo10th Annual Florida Ag Expo Field Tours To Tackle Production Challenges
September 1, 2015
There will be plenty to see and learn during the milestone event's exclusive field trials. Read More
Apples & PearsPennsylvania Congressman Supports CIDER Act
August 31, 2015
Freshman Congressman Ryan Costello (PA-06) spent a recent afternoon at Frecon Farms in Boyertown, PA, to tout the CIDER Act, Read More
Oriental Fruit fly
CitrusExotic Fruit Flies Invade South Florida
August 31, 2015
Efforts are under way to eradicate pest that attacks more than 230 different fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Read More
Business PlanningBe Food Safety Recall-Ready [Opinion]
August 31, 2015
No one ever wants to make someone sick after consuming fresh produce, but in spite of the protocols in place, recallls happen and you must be prepared. Read More
Crop ProtectionSustainable Options For Controlling Brown Marmorated Stink Bug In Vegetables
August 31, 2015
A researcher from Rutgers University offers pointers to help you control this pest of fruits and vegetables. Read More
The Latest
Apples & PearsMarvin Sundquist Dies At 89
September 1, 2015
Marvin Sundquist, the retired owner of Sundquist Fruit and Cold Storage, died on Aug. 29 at the age of 89, Read More
Apples & PearsSyngenta Receives EPA Registration For Solatenol  Fungi…
September 1, 2015
The fungicide is available in four product offerings, pending state registrations. Read More
Grower Achievement AwardPero Family Farms Is The 2015 Grower Achievement Award …
September 1, 2015
The farm family that runs this Delray Beach-FL based operation develops, produces, packages, and markets its fresh-cut products while continuing to think outside the box. Read More
Dennis P. Broadaway
CitrusFlorida Citrus Packers Bestows Association’s Highest Ho…
September 1, 2015
For his dedication to the Sunshine State’s fresh citrus sector, Dennis Broadaway receives John T. Lesley Award for Excellence. Read More
Citrus Achievement AwardSaving Citrus A Perpetual Task
September 1, 2015
Orie Lee, the 2015 Citrus Achievement Award winner, talks about how growing citrus has changed in his lifetime and how it hasn't. Read More
Florida Ag Expo10th Annual Florida Ag Expo Field Tours To Tackle Produ…
September 1, 2015
There will be plenty to see and learn during the milestone event's exclusive field trials. Read More
Apples & PearsPennsylvania Congressman Supports CIDER Act
August 31, 2015
Freshman Congressman Ryan Costello (PA-06) spent a recent afternoon at Frecon Farms in Boyertown, PA, to tout the CIDER Act, Read More
Oriental Fruit fly
CitrusExotic Fruit Flies Invade South Florida
August 31, 2015
Efforts are under way to eradicate pest that attacks more than 230 different fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Read More
Business PlanningBe Food Safety Recall-Ready [Opinion]
August 31, 2015
No one ever wants to make someone sick after consuming fresh produce, but in spite of the protocols in place, recallls happen and you must be prepared. Read More
Crop ProtectionSustainable Options For Controlling Brown Marmorated St…
August 31, 2015
A researcher from Rutgers University offers pointers to help you control this pest of fruits and vegetables. Read More
CitrusNominations Open For Next Class Of Florida Citrus Hall …
August 31, 2015
Inductees to be honored during the 54th annual Citrus Celebration Luncheon. Read More
CitrusWhole-Farm Revenue Protection Insurance To Be Available…
August 31, 2015
USDA offers greater flexibility for beginning, organic and fruit and vegetable growers. Read More
Cucurbits8 Must-Have Melons
August 31, 2015
This month’s variety specs feature focuses on the latest cantaloupe and melon varieties. Some of the features highlighted include disease Read More
drought management; irrigation; water management
CitrusClear Up Misconceptions About Water Use In Ag
August 31, 2015
Those in the industry need to to clear up misconceptions about water use in agriculture. Read More
FruitsNew Airless Tire For Center Pivots
August 31, 2015
Aperture design provides flexibility over ridges to help prevent overloading of the drive train. Read More
Stone FruitHow Canopy Structures Can Affect Sweet Cherry Productiv…
August 31, 2015
We have previously explored orchard cover technologies to modify climatic risks in sweet cherry production, such as rain-cracking and spring Read More
Fruits6 Tips To Avoid Postharvest Losses
August 31, 2015
Avoiding postharvest losses essentially comes down to knowing what techniques to employ, and what to evade throughout each link in Read More
Insect & Disease UpdateProducts To Help Your Trees Fight Off Citrus Greening
August 31, 2015
Tree decline is one of the major components of citrus greening disease or huanglongbing (HLB). Vectored by the Asian citrus Read More