From the Orchard: Making Every Drop Count

Posted June 5th, 2017

For many almond farmers, a regular orchard task is irrigation system maintenance. That’s a fancy way of saying that, just like you might keep an eye on your backyard sprinklers to ensure they’re working well, almond farmers closely monitor the functionality of each irrigation dripper or sprinkler throughout the trees’ growing season. Depending on weather conditions and location, almond trees are generally irrigated from mid-March to mid-October.

More than 70 percent of California Almond orchards use efficient microirrigation – a system where flexible tubing runs along the tree rows with a small sprinkler or dripper for each tree. This means water is applied directly to the trees’ root areas, where the tree needs it, rather than across the entire field.

Because microirrigation uses plastic tubing and a variety of small parts, there’s inherent maintenance to ensure each tree is getting the water it needs and address any water that is being wasted. In practice this means that when a farmer irrigates their orchard, they don’t just turn on the water and walk away. Instead they go through each row – usually riding on an ATV – to check that each sprinkler or dripper is delivering water and plug any leaks they find.

While irrigation system maintenance is an important task for water efficiency and a healthy crop, there are many other practices almond farmers follow to use water wisely. 

To help almond farmers follow the latest water efficiency practices, this year the Almond Board of California (ABC) launched the Almond Irrigation Improvement Continuum. This progressive management tool combines learnings from almond irrigation research over the past three decades into a single resource with the goal of continued advancements in a farmer’s irrigation strategies.

The Continuum covers five essential elements of good irrigation management and details how farmers can effectively integrate these elements into an overarching strategy:

  1. Estimating the baseline water needed for the orchard age and location
  2. Measuring irrigation system performance and efficiency
  3. Determining the water applied
  4. Evaluating water stored in the soil
  5. Evaluating water lost by the plant

Within each of the management areas covered by the Continuum, there are three levels of precision described. Level 1.0 outlines irrigation management practices that are within reach for all California Almond farmers and require little to no investment for the farmer. Proficiency level 2.0 (intermediate) and level 3.0 (advanced) evolve these basic practices to further increase water efficiency, minimize waste, and grow more “crop per drop.”

While over the past two decades almond farmers have decreased the amount of water needed to grow a pound of almonds by 33 percent,1 the objective of the Continuum is to assist all California Almond farmers in achieving even better water efficiency.

To learn more about the Almond Irrigation Improvement Continuum visit


1University of California. UC Drought Management. Feb. 2010. Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper 66 – Crop yield in response to water. 2012. Almond Board of California. Almond Almanac 1990-94, 2000-14.

In the Orchard , Water