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
Wafler apple harvester
Apple Grower of the Year
August 27, 2016
Rock Steady U.S. Apple Crop Forecast
USApple predicts 2016 output will be just slightly higher than in 2015. Read More
UC Cooperative Extension Viticulture Advisor Lindsay Jordan installs a solar “Paso Panel.” (Photo Credit: Matthew Fidelibus)
Grapes
August 27, 2016
Managing Water In California Vineyards
National viticulture symposium provides insights into estimating vineyard irrigation requirements. Read More
A Concord model grape vineyard with a two-tier cordon system. (Photo credit: Tom Zabadel)
Grapes
August 26, 2016
Model Vineyard Looks To Maximize Concord Production
Watching Michigan ‘‘Concord’’ grape growers struggle with stagnant and sometimes declining prices, a team of researchers at Michigan State University Read More
Organic potato grower staring at his crops
Crop Protection
August 25, 2016
Better Biocontrol Options Becoming Available To Organic Growers
New bio-based solutions to effectively control weeds and pests are cropping up. Read More
Marty McKenna and Mark Wheeler grab a photo together at the Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference
Citrus Achievement Award
August 25, 2016
Working Together For A Common Cause Key To Citrus Success
Cirus Achievement Award winner Marty McKenna says the industry is sustained by strength in numbers. Read More
New citrus grove in Florida
Citrus
August 24, 2016
Florida Citrus Granted New Incentive To Grow On
A state-backed $5.5 million grove renovation/re-establishment program is now available and accepting applications. Read More
Judi Whitson, 2016 Florida Woman of the Year in Agriculture
Citrus
August 24, 2016
Meet Florida’s 2016 Woman Of The Year In Agriculture
Dedication to fostering the state’s farming future defines the latest winner of longtime honor. Read More
University of New Hampshire scientists constructed a linkage map of the seven chromosomes of the diploid Fragaria iinumae, which allows them to fill in a piece of the genetic puzzle about the eight sets of chromosomes of the cultivated strawberry.
Berries
August 24, 2016
Researchers Unravel Genetic Ancestry Of Cultivated Strawberry
A genetic analysis conducted by New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station researchers aims to improve modern cultivation efforts of strawberry growers. Read More
Justin Clements, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Center working in the Department of Entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the recipient of NPC's 2016-2017 Academic Scholarship.
Potatoes
August 24, 2016
Fifth-Year Doctoral Student Receives NPC’s Scholarship For Potato Research
The National Potato Council (NPC) has announced that Justin Clements, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Read More
2011 WA IFTA Tour
Fruits
August 24, 2016
Don’t Underestimate The Value Of Production Bus Tours For Your Business [Opinion]
Sure, you can see and talk with virtually anyone in the world through your smart phone, but you can’t shake their hand. Read More
The Latest
Apple Grower of the Year
August 27, 2016
Rock Steady U.S. Apple Crop Forecast
USApple predicts 2016 output will be just slightly higher than in 2015. Read More
Grapes
August 27, 2016
Managing Water In California Vineyards
National viticulture symposium provides insights into estimating vineyard irrigation requirements. Read More
Grapes
August 26, 2016
Model Vineyard Looks To Maximize Concord…
Watching Michigan ‘‘Concord’’ grape growers struggle with stagnant and sometimes declining prices, a team of researchers at Michigan State University Read More
Crop Protection
August 25, 2016
Better Biocontrol Options Becoming Avail…
New bio-based solutions to effectively control weeds and pests are cropping up. Read More
Citrus Achievement Award
August 25, 2016
Working Together For A Common Cause Key …
Cirus Achievement Award winner Marty McKenna says the industry is sustained by strength in numbers. Read More
Citrus
August 24, 2016
Florida Citrus Granted New Incentive To …
A state-backed $5.5 million grove renovation/re-establishment program is now available and accepting applications. Read More
Citrus
August 24, 2016
Meet Florida’s 2016 Woman Of The Year In…
Dedication to fostering the state’s farming future defines the latest winner of longtime honor. Read More
Berries
August 24, 2016
Researchers Unravel Genetic Ancestry Of …
A genetic analysis conducted by New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station researchers aims to improve modern cultivation efforts of strawberry growers. Read More
Potatoes
August 24, 2016
Fifth-Year Doctoral Student Receives NPC…
The National Potato Council (NPC) has announced that Justin Clements, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Read More
Fruits
August 24, 2016
Don’t Underestimate The Value Of P…
Sure, you can see and talk with virtually anyone in the world through your smart phone, but you can’t shake their hand. Read More
Farm Management
August 24, 2016
Swaying Views On GMO Foods No Easy Task
Featured speaker for the upcoming FFVA Annual Convention says tides are slowly turning in how people digest the concept of genetic modification. Read More
Grapes
August 23, 2016
Deeper Irrigation Method Showing Promise…
A new subsurface irrigation system is showing promise for slashing water usage in vineyards. Many vineyards use drip lines that Read More
Disease Control
August 23, 2016
Florida Sweet Corn Has New Deadly Stalke…
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this disease. Read More
Fruits
August 23, 2016
New Insecticides Geared To Give Growers …
Check out three unique chemistries from several of the industry's leading crop protection suppliers. Read More
Apple Grower of the Year
August 22, 2016
Apple Crop Forecasts Live On Twitter
You'll be able to get up-to-the-minute reports of not only the various regions of the U.S., but key production regions around the world. Read More
Oranges
August 22, 2016
Major OJ Purchase Promises Relief For Fl…
$30 million planned acquisition from USDA to be used for surplus removal. Read More
Varieties & Rootstocks
August 22, 2016
Florida Citrus Breeders Squeezed For Tim…
The pressure is on to develop a more HLB-tolerant orange. Read More
Pest Control
August 21, 2016
Spotted Wing Drosophila: For Michigan, …
Why the pest can be so much more destructive for Eastern cherry growers might be due to what they’re not farming. Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]