Drip Irrigation is King During Drought

Terranova Ranch Surviving the Drought: Drip Irrigation

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

As the drought continues to preside, farmers persist in their efforts to improve farming techniques to make the most out of what little water they have available. Don Cameron, general manager of Terra Nova Ranch, Inc., said the 7000-acre ranch in Helm, in Fresno County has managed to keep its 30 crops viable in the middle of the drought by changing its irrigation methods.

“We’ve been able to continue farming the acreage that we have, even in the fourth year of a drought,” Cameron said, “because we’ve changed all of our row crops irrigation to buried drip irrigation. We use every drop of water that we have.”

“We’ve also put in drip irrigation systems on all our trees and vines,” Cameron said. “We have irrigation scheduling. We use evapotranspiration data—we’re not putting on anything more than what we’re actually using.”

“So we’re able to find a solution just to get through these tough times,” Cameron said, “and we hope to have a wet winter and get a good snowpack so next year we’ll have more water. We’re farming like we’re in a drought every year. We’re never really going to go back to the ways that we used to farm.”

Subsurface Drip in Alfalfa

Subsurface Drip in Alfalfa–A Growing Interest

By Laurie Greene, Editor

Dan Putnam is a faculty member and Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Davis with a statewide responsibility for alfalfa and forage crops. He said there has been an increased interest in subsurface drip irrigation in alfalfa, which is usually flood-irrigated. Alfalfa is a key forage source for the state’s top agricultural product, dairy, to the tune of more than $7 billion per year.

“It does come with some challenges,” but he said, “the growers who have really treated this as an educational experience are continually learning how to manage this system; not only the gophers, but the irrigation management component as well. To establish a crop with drip irrigation, growers need to plant in early fall and use sprinklers to germinate the seeds. A lot of growers fail on agronomic issues, like not planting at the right time of year rather than on drip irrigation issues,” Putnam said.

Putnam noted that growers are more interested in learning about subsurface drip irrigation because of increased yields. “I think over time, we are going to see a greater adaptation of this technology in California,” Putnam explained, “particularly in areas that have very high yield potential. For example, in the San Joaquin Valley and the Imperial low desert areas where the crop is actually capable of 12-16 ton yields, our yields average about 7-8 tons per acre. And so,” he added, “we do have a yield potential that we are unable to achieve, and part of that is in the limitation of surface irrigation.”

Putnam also noted one advantage of drip irrigation is efficient nutrient delivery, which in turn fosters increased uniformity across the system. “Growers can ‘spoon-feed’ the crop rather than inefficiently apply it on the surface,” stated Putnam. “I think a lot of growers have figured this out, although alfalfa does not have a nitrogen issue. Nevertheless, we have to apply significant phosphorous, potassium and several other nutrients in some deficient soils.”

As with most things, there are drawbacks, and Putnam outlined two. “One is an increased cost of the drip line and filtration system,” Putnam said. “Growers who are considering subsurface drip need to wrestle with the cost to be sure they can increase yields enough to justify the cost. In most cases, growers have been able to substantially increase yields in their systems to pay for the $1500-2500 per acre upfront investment in the technology,” he said.

“The other drawback is maintenance,” Putnam continued, “particularly with regard to rodent infestations. We’ve seen gophers, in particular, ground squirrels and meadow voles absolutely devastate drip-irrigation fields. As our vertebrate pest specialist at UC Davis says, ‘It is essentially an ideal habitat for gophers as they have plenty of food, plenty of shelter, plenty of water, and they are able to reproduce pretty readily.’ ”

“You should consider this system only if you are willing to accept a very high level of maintenance and no tolerance for rodent infestation because, if left unchecked, they will chew on the tapes and ruin the system,” he said.

Putnam reported there are strategies to get around gophers and other rodent issues, “You have start clean and do some deep tillage. We also recommend  retaining the capability of flood irrigation in those fields to use once in a while because it reaches the furrows very effectively,” he noted.

For those gophers, Putnam recommends every trick in the book. “There are traps organic farmers are able to use, flood irrigation, and boxes to help control the population,” Putnam said. “There are products available for baiting and other types of control measures that should be used. It is really too expensive a system to allow the gophers to have their way with it, so we need to have a high level of management,” he concluded.

CDFA AWARDS $5.8 MILLION TO ASSIST FARMERS WITH WATER EFFICIENCY AND ENHANCEMENT

Announced TODAY, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has awarded $5.8 million for 70 different projects in the second phase of a program to implement on-farm water irrigation systems with increased water efficiency and enhancement to reduce water and energy use, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

The funding for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) is part of emergency drought Legislation (SB 103) signed in early 2014 by Governor Brown – authorizing CDFA to distribute as much as $10 million for eligible projects, in cooperation with the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Board.

“These projects are essential to allow farmers to continue agricultural food production while at the same time providing ecosystem services that enhance the environment” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “The result is the continuous improvement of our farming systems while at the same time providing multiple benefits, including water conservation and reduced GHG emissions.”

With this latest round of funding, a total of $9.1 million has been awarded for 155 different projects that have leveraged an additional $6.9 million in private cost-share dollars from grant recipients. The money comes from the state’s portion of Cap-and-Trade auction proceeds. The proceeds are deposited in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and appropriated to state agencies.

The funding will reduce GHG emissions through projects that include modifications to improve water efficiency like drip and microsprinkler systems; energy-efficient water pumps; soil moisture sensors; and irrigation scheduling programs that apply water based on crop needs.

This program is the first of its kind at CDFA and applies to its authority under the Environmental Farming Act of 1995, which states that the department should oversee an Environmental Farming Program to provide incentives to farmers whose practices promote the well-being of ecosystem and air quality.

More information on the SWEEP program can be found by visiting  www.cdfa.ca.gov/go/sweep.

Water Forum Aug. 29 Chukchansi Park

Water Forum will present the facts on the drought and environmental restrictions

The Fresno Grizzlies have announced that Netafim USA will be the presenting sponsor of the Farm Grown Central Valley Water Forum scheduled for Friday, August 29th at Chukchansi Park prior to the Tacoma Rainiers vs. Fresno Grizzlies 7:05 p.m. PT game.

The forum topic will center on the current drought conditions and the impacts to the Central Valley Ag industry and rural communities. “There is no greater issue in the Central Valley than the current and future availability of water for agricultural use; forums – like this one – are an essential step towards developing a long term solution for California’s agricultural community,” said Ze’ev Barylka, Marketing Director for Netafim USA.

The panel discussion will focus on the issue of regional impacts, asking the questions: how did the system breakdown, what are the subsequent statewide effects, and finally, what coalitions are being developed outside the Central Valley to assist in fixing the system. Panelists will include representatives from various water agencies, government leaders and officials.

“This partnership certainly brings to light the vital role that Netafim USA plays in providing emerging water conservation and drip irrigation technologies to the Central Valley Ag and farming industry. The partnership will also provide the Farm Grown program with tremendous amounts of exposure to the industry beyond the Central San Joaquin Valley as well, thereby increasing our ability to continue in providing topical agricultural forums to promote agriculture and farming here at the stadium,” said Jerry James, Fresno Grizzlies Vice President of Revenue.

 

The Water Forum Panel will include:

  • Congressman Jim Costa  (CA-16)
  • Congressman David Valadao (CA-21)
  • State Senator Tom Berryhill (14th Senate District)
  • GM of Kings River Conservation District David Orth
  • GM of the Friant Water Authority Ronald D. Jacobsma
  • Marketing Director for Netafim USA and Netafim Mexico Ze’ev Barylka

Forum Moderator Bud Elliott

Netafim Rolls Out Portable Drip Irrigation Technology 

New PolyNet Flexible Piping System Provides Cost-Effective, 

Water-Saving Solution For Today’s Farms

 

Addressing the diverse operational and environmental needs of today’s modern growers, Netafim, the pioneers of drip irrigation, have unveiled PolyNet, a high-performance, flexible, lightweight, cost-effective, piping solution for above and below-ground agricultural drip irrigation systems.

Utilizing an advanced, collapsible design, PolyNet is an innovative mainline and sub-mainline portable drip irrigation piping solution from Netafim that enables growers to easily install, recoil and relocate a drip irrigation system for use in an alternate field or different configuration.Netafim-PolyNet-Outlet

Featuring leakage-free lateral connectors and integrated welded outlets, spaced according to customer requirements, PolyNet’s advanced design provides growers with an easy-to-assemble, precise water delivery solution that lowers labor and maintenance costs, increases water savings and improves crop performance potential through enhanced system performance.

Additionally, the cost (per acre) of a PolyNet portable drip irrigation system is substantially less than a below-ground PVC system, giving producers more options when deciding on a system that is the right fit for their operation.

Netafim-PolyNet in field 2“A perfect complement to Netafim’s singular focus of providing reliable, simple and affordable irrigation solutions to help today’s farmers address the challenges of an increasingly complex industry, PolyNet enables farmers to reap the benefits of a drip irrigation system in areas where flexibility is essential,” said Ze’ev Barylka, Director of Marketing for Netafim USA. “Since first pioneering drip irrigation technology nearly 5 decades ago, the debut of PolyNet is a result of Netafim’s continued commitment to providing growers wit leading tools and technology needed to improve yield potential and productivity, while reducing costs, labor and water use.”

Available in a wide range of diameters, PolyNet’s thermostatic collapsible irigation pipe is constructed from rugged premium polyethylene materials that are designed to be versatile and durable enough to withstand the weight of heavy field machinery as well as the most stringent environmental conditions. Requiring no specialized installation tools, PolyNet is equipped with a connector kit and an array of branching and lateral fittings, making it compatible with any Netafim on-surface or subsurface (SDI) irrigation system.

For more information on PolyNet or the company’s industry leading drip irrigation products please visit www.NetafimUSA.com.

Views on Food: Outsmarting the Drought

By Elaine Corn; The Sacramento Bee

Shahar Caspi tends acres of gardens, fruit trees and a commercial vineyard in the hamlet of Oregon House in the foothills between Marysville and Grass Valley. His job since 2012 has been raising food year round for his community and bringing perfect wine grapes to harvest – all without tilling, and with little to zero added water.

We drove between two fields, one side brown, ragged and parched, the other a Caspi no-water showcase – grape vines in bud break, the ground beneath them rich, a natural ground cover green as jade.

“Mulch with shredded roots,” he says exuberantly, eyes off the road. “Very simple!”

At a sunny glade, another concept preps cherry trees. He walks us past huge square holes he flushed with water and allowed to drain. The holes were filled with Caspi’s mulch, manure and compost, then a tree. “They won’t need water for many, many months.”

Back in the greenhouse next to his mountaintop home, Caspi laid manure on the rock-hard dirt floor, and on purpose didn’t till the soil underneath. He stuck chard seedlings directly into the manure. “They flourished immediately,” Caspi says. “The roots went sideways into a huge mass of roots. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

And despite no rainfall the first four months of his second season of raising food for his neighbors, water usage dropped 30 percent and yields increased.

How does he do it?

The same way a dietitian would bulk up a wasting patient with lots of calories and nutrients. Except Caspi is like a soil chef, mixing fermented manure and compost in varying proportions “to re-establish a whole layer of soil that holds water” like a subterranean sponge.

The technique is reminiscent of Rudolf Steiner’s bio-dynamics, which treats the farm as a holistic entity. But considering Caspi’s past and combining it with an uncertain future of water in California, a goal of using zero water to grow food is understandable.

Caspi grew up inculcated with respect for water. In Israel, kids get “Don’t Waste A Drop” stickers in school that go on the family fridge. “It’s so much in our blood to save water,” he says. “We had a cartoon that showed the whole family showering together under a few drops of water.”

Modern drip irrigation with emitters was an idea out of Israel. So is placing black plastic sheeting over soil to contain moisture. Israel leads the world in recycling 80 percent of its water. Its latest technology collects dew.

In California, some growers are on top of the drought. A report from the California Farm Water Coalition says that in the San Joaquin Valley $2.2 billion was invested in drip irrigation on 1.8 million acres. But for every conserver using soil probes, infrared photography and improved weather forecasting, we have devourers of resources.

“Here you flood fields,” Caspi says. “An Israeli would say, ‘Are you kidding?’ It’s the mentality of abundance, that it’s going to last forever.”

In 2008, winemaker Gideon Beinstock hired Caspi to be vineyard manager at Renaissance Vineyard and Winery in Oregon House. With Caspi’s degree in plant sciences from The Hebrew University and years of experience in water strategy in Israel, his mission was to convert 45 acres of conventionally cultivated vineyard to fully bio-dynamic viticulture.

Production costs went down by 12 percent. Yields increased between 3 percent and 7 percent.

Beyond his work at the vineyard, Caspi tends the gardens of about 50 “member” neighbors in and around Oregon House. Because this is a rural community, Caspi can put a sign on the road saying “manure needed,” and loads are brought to him for fermenting.

The finished manure plus organic matter from garden waste, wood ash and olive paste all come from within a 10-mile radius. It returns to the members in the form of Caspi’s magical soil smoothie that retains water and nourishes roots.

In the garden, take a load off and don’t till. Then follow Caspi’s instructions.

Find a source of manure and compost. Lay a thick layer, up to 4 inches, on the ground and plant right into it. Apply plant by plant rather than over the entire garden. For tomatoes, dig a deep hole, water the hole until the water drains, fill the hole with a mix of chicken manure and compost, then a tomato seedling. Add a bit more nitrogen in the form of half a teaspoon of chicken manure when you dig the hole. Water once more.

How long can you go without added water? A week? A month? Water only if lack of moisture is detected by sticking a finger into the ground. “The first year is hardest,” Caspi says. “Don’t give up. If you fail, you try again.”

As to your own sense of food security, you can have a community-supported agriculture system on your street. “One person grows the potatoes, someone else grows the beans, and another person grows herbs,” Caspi explains. Everyone adds to the pile tended by the neighborhood compost geek. In a few years, the soil will be so absorptive it will gulp winter rainwater and retain it through summer.

Without access to the livestock that live near Caspi, there might be a cost for store-bought manure, unless you have a friend with a horse, a cow or chickens. When a crop is ready, deliveries begin in staggered availability.

With wells already stressed in the Sierra foothills, Caspi remains an Israeli at heart, tinkering for extra droplets of water in what he presumes is a terminal drought.

“The plant takes only what it needs,” Caspi says. “This is how it works in nature. If you don’t need it, why do you want to take it?”

To protect ourselves from food shortages and to buffer California’s agricultural economy, we all should regard any adjustments that allow us to grow food with less water as permanent.