June 2021

The advancements in agricultural technology have changed nearly all aspects of farming.  In a dry year such as the one we are currently experiencing irrigation/water technology is of interest to anybody that works with water.  From weather stations, satellite imagery, drone footage, moisture sensors, irrigation schedulers, electronically controlled valves, ET calculators or anything that will make one more water efficient is of value. The vendors of these products are everywhere, some promising enormous savings in water use in best case scenarios. These technologies enable better decision making and/or labor savings capabilities.  Much of the science in plant water use is generally known but are not specific.  Models give an idea but are not honed into a specific area, geography, geology and weather conditions within an area. These technologies give a more exacting look at what plants are doing at a specific point in time. There are costs associated with any new technology but the ability to not overirrigate pays dividends.  Like other “new” things, as the adoption of new technologies by growers increases, the costs become more reasonable.  Stretching available water a few percent over the years accumulates to huge water savings in the long term.

Irrigation technology has been developed because of new and ongoing research.  As cultural practices to grow a crop have changed over time, water use must be reevaluated.  A good example is in almond, much of the early research were in orchards in the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley with flood irrigation.  Fast forward 40 years and almonds are mostly grown on microirrigation systems with high density of trees per acre on different rootstocks. Less larger size trees versus more but smaller trees.  We are very fortunate that UC/CSU ag schools have the specialists available to develop the crop water use and fertilizer use recommendations for the multitude of crop grown in this state.   The research is what propels the introduction of new and novel technologies.  It also gives growers a knowledge base and management capabilities to be able adapt to the changing conditions.

All of these new things enable us to make better, more educated decisions and become more efficient.  However, it doesn’t replace the water that the plant needs.  One can have all kinds of instruments and other tech gadgets but plants can’t survive without water. We can be as efficient as humanly possible but tech does not replace nature, we all need water to survive.

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