Historically early adopters of innovative approaches to irrigation and production methods, almond growers continue pushing the envelope with their support for new technologies and approaches to water use efficiency.
Most recently, the Almond Board of California invested in UC Davis research to develop technology that uses sensors to deliver data about real-time orchard conditions to growers’ computers and mobile devices. Now available commercially, this technology allows almond growers to determine even more precisely, when and how much water almond trees need.
Addressing larger policy and water supply issues, the California almond community also has been working with local agencies and water districts to move forward a plan to deliver treated wastewater to drought-stricken farmers for irrigation.
Bob Curtis, Director of Agricultural Affairs for the Almond Board, is involved closely with ongoing innovations in almond growing, including things like building irrigation systems precisely tailored to different conditions throughout the orchard. This builds on already impressive irrigation efficiencies. “About 80 percent of almond growers monitor weather, soil moisture and tree health to determine when and how much to irrigate rather than irrigating on a predetermined schedule1,” said Curtis.
The latest development to grow out of Almond Board-funded research is a product called LeafMon, manufactured by Cermetek Microelectronics. A research team led by Shrini Upadhyaya in the UC Davis Department of Biological and Agriculture Engineering developed a monitor that continuously collects an orchard’s vital signs – leaf temperature, light level, relative humidity, wind speed, etc. – to tell growers precisely when irrigation is needed.
Frank Stempski, sales manager for Milpitas-based Cermetek, says LeafMon will help growers save water and improve crop quality and yield. "The goal is to keep crops in near ideal conditions, at all times," he said.
This type of system can be integrated with a wireless network, making it possible to obtain the orchard’s precise water conditions through the Internet or mobile devices at a grower’s fingertips, virtually eliminating previously tedious and labor-intensive methods.
“Newly developed operating systems like LeafMon ideally will help support irrigation decisions targeting individual and unique zones in the orchard,” said Curtis. “Pulling all of the pieces together will lead to the most efficient use of our precious water resources.”
On the water supply front, almond growers and others helped drive support for a Modesto partnership with the city of Turlock and Patterson-based Del Puerto Water District on the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program. This innovative project involves the cities building pipelines to send their treated wastewater to farmers dealing with consistent water shortages in Del Puerto Water District. In wet years, extra water would go to wildlife refuges.
The initial delivery of water through this project will meet about a seventh of Del Puerto Water District’s water demand, with plans to expand this over time.
As illustrated by these two projects, active engagement and financial support from almond growers continues to yield innovative, sustainable solutions.
1 Almond Board of California. 2014 California Almond Sustainability Program.