Water access, availability, and rights to use and manage it are likely to become daily considerations for many of Washington’s citizens. Most WSU agricultural faculty and staff have had little to no training in water issues including irrigation technologies, have limited access to up-to-date resources, and are therefore not well prepared to assist clients or provide informational programs. We conducted a drip irrigation workshop series, developed and coordinated a website for ongoing support, hosted field days, and established field demonstration sites to train extension faculty/staff, agricultural professionals, growers and home owners regarding the use of more efficient and effective irrigation systems.
- Host water and irrigation workshop series to promote new irrigation techniques.
Coordinate workshop with Yakama Nation to highlight sustainable irrigation and soil and water conservation practices.
Develop and coordinate new website information to provide Extension faculty and staff and other agricultural professionals with current irrigation information.
Establish demonstration sites to promote adoption of new and sustainable irrigation technologies.
A few progressive growers will adopt new sustainable irrigation practices and this will result in more efficient use of irrigation water and less runoff from grower’s fields.
Water may be one of the most critical and contentious issues in Washington in the next decade and has been called “the oil of the 21st century.” Water access, availability, and rights to use and manage it are likely to become daily considerations for many of WSU’s clients including nursery operators, food producers and processors, and even master gardeners and 4H animal owners. Most WSU agricultural faculty and staff have had little to no training in water issues including irrigation technologies and have limited access to up-to-date resources and are therefore not well prepared to assist clients or provide informational programs. The goal of this project was to develop and provide professional development training for WSU faculty and staff and other agricultural professionals. By promoting the wise use of water for irrigation we anticipated reducing potential negative impacts such as leaching, erosion, transporting agricultural chemicals into streams and water bodies, food safety concerns with irrigation, use of irrigation techniques, and energy consumption.
Workshops. A workshop on Sustainable Agriculture was held January 10, 2008, at the Yakama Nation Cultural Heritage Center, Toppenish, WA, coordinated with James Thomas of the Yakama Nation Environmental Management Program. The program included speakers from the Yakama Nation, USDA, WSDA, Washington State University and Oregon State University (Appendix I).
A Water and Irrigation Series was held over a five month period at WSU Mount Vernon NWREC. Information that is particular to western Washington was included in the workshop series, such as iron bacteria in irrigation systems, Ag Weather Net, climate impacts on irrigation, and new technology such as big boom vs. big gun technology. A boom irrigation demonstration was also conducted. For details on the Drip Irrigation Series topics, see attached workshop schedule, Appendix II.
Website. We coordinated with Troy Peters, WSU Irrigation Specialist, and collaborated to update and expand the WSU Irrigation Website, http://irrigation.wsu.edu.
Demonstration Sites: Three demonstration sites were established as part of this project.
Surge Irrigation. An on-farm demonstration was set up with a grower near Harrah, Washington, with a new surge irrigation system including gated pipe and a PNR surge valve. This field demonstration was arranged in conjunction with the Yakama Nation and with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A field day was held to demonstrate this technology to growers on June 3.
Vegetable Drip Irrigation. A demonstration site was set up at the Washington State University Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center. A field demonstration trial was conducted to monitor drip irrigation rates in pickling cucumbers and to demonstrate the use of soil moisture monitoring for irrigation timing. This field experiment was arranged in collaboration with the Northwest Agriculture Research Foundation. The experimental design was a randomized complete block split-plot design with 4 replications. The main plots consisted of three drip-irrigation rates: 1) 0.5 inches; 2) 1.0 inches; and 3) variable inches, based on soil moisture monitoring. Subplots were six pickling cucumber cultivars. Soil moisture was monitored in the center of each plot at 9 inches and 18 inches soil depth, using ‘Watermark’ soil moisture sensors. Soil moisture was measured 3 times per week in centibars (soil moisture tension) on a scale of 0-200, with 0 being saturated to full capacity and 200 being dangerously dry. A field day was held at the irrigation trial on July 10, speakers were Troy Peters, WSU Irrigation Specialist, and Carol Miles, and they presented an overview of drip irrigation for vegetable crops.
Orchard Drip Irrigation. A kiosk on Drip Irrigation for your Garden and Orchard was set up in the Western Washington Fruit Research Foundation (WWFRF) display orchard on site at the WSU Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center. The kiosk was used in the final workshop of the irrigation series to discuss setting up drip irrigation in home orchards.
- The Sustainable Agriculture workshop at the Yakama Nation was attended by 55 people. The Water and Irrigation series was attended by 80 people, 7 were Ag Professionals, and all others were growers.
Updates made to the website included a drip irrigation calculator section, two new informational articles Drip Irrigation for Agricultural Producers and Drip Irrigation for Lawn and Garden, a link to a drip irrigation guide for Onions, a link to the Ag Weather Network website, and a presentation done by Tom Walters about iron bacteria in drip irrigation systems. We have also added a link to the irrigation website on the front of the WSU Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center website, http://mtvernon.wsu.edu.
Approximately 15 people attended the Surge Irrigation field day. As a result of this field day at least one additional grower has adopted surge irrigation in his own fields. He has stated that surge has resulted in less runoff from his fields and has helped him to stretch his water much farther than it would have been able to do otherwise. Our goal is that a few more progressive growers will adopt surge irrigation, and this will result in more efficient use of irrigation water and less runoff from growers’ fields. The field day and vegetable drip irrigation demonstration was attended by 80 growers and agricultural industry representatives. At least one grower reported that he immediately reduced his irrigation rates following this field day and that plant health appeared to improve as a result. The orchard drip irrigation workshop was attended by 10 people and provided an introduction to primary orchard irrigation system components, set up, maintenance, timing, and most common problems. Participants included extension volunteers and feedback was positive.
- As a result of reducing the irrigation timing at the vegetable drip irrigation demonstration site we were able to improve soil moisture balance and had better demonstration of the use of watermark soil moisture monitors.
Growers have incorporated a few techniques and technologies that were topics in demonstration sites, workshops, and field days including the use of surge irrigation and the use of watermarks for soil moisture monitoring.
The orchard drip irrigation presentation is being presented by Kristan Johnson, Make Every Drip Count, at the WWFRF annual fall conference on October 11, 2008, and at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show on February 20, 2009. In addition, the King County WSU Master Gardner Program has requested copies of the information we developed to include in their display gardens and educational programs.
Educational & Outreach Activities
A kiosk on Drip Irrigation for your Garden and Orchard was set up in the Western Washington Fruit Research Foundation (WWFRF) display orchard on site at the WSU Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center. The kiosk includes a poster and a brochure. In addition a presentation was developed in collaboration with Kristan Johnson, Kim Seibert, Bradley Smith of the WWFRF. For details on the drip irrigation kiosk please see Drip Irrigation Guide handout, Appendix III.
In this project, we did not conduct any economic analysis of the project components. What we and our farmers know is that: 1) When you have to pay for water, using less results in lower costs; 2) When you prevent root diseases by watering less, you reduce the costs and needs for pest management; and 3) When you reduce or eliminate foliar diseases by converting to drip irrigation the costs for pest management are again reduced. While these results are very simplistic in regards to economic analyses, it was clear to us based on interactions at field days and presentations that growers could relate to these relationships.
- As a result of the Surge Irrigation demonstration site one grower has adopted surge irrigation in his own fields. He has stated that surge has resulted in less runoff from his fields and has helped him to stretch his water much farther than it would have been able to do otherwise.
As a result of the Vegetable Drip Irrigation demonstration site at least one grower has reported that he immediately reduced his irrigation rates following the field day and that plant health appeared to improve as a result. Also as a result of this field day one grower has reported he started using a few watermark soil moisture monitors.
Areas needing additional study
There is a continued need for more information regarding drip irrigation and other conservation irrigation technologies. Additional extension publications, fact sheets, and web pages would enable extension agents to be better prepared for providing educational programs to their clientele. There is still a high need for extension training regarding irrigation technologies. Workshops were well attended by growers but not well attended by Extension faculty and staff. For future educational events, we recommend hosting workshops at county extension offices to increase level of extension participation. In addition, future workshops could be planned in a participatory fashion with Extension agents so that there is greater buy-in for attending each event. Finally, funding support for travel would increase likelihood of attendance as currently WSU Extension agents and staff do not receive travel allocations.