Improving Water Use Efficiency in Conventional and Organic Almonds through Data Driven Irrigation

Project Overview

FW16-036
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2016: $19,878.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2018
Grant Recipient: P R Farms, Inc.
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Pat Ricchiuti
P R Farms, Inc.

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Nuts: almonds

Practices

  • Crop Production: irrigation

    Summary:

    The purpose of this two-year project is to compare advanced irrigation practices on two Fresno County almond orchards under organic and conventional management practices. In particular, the blocks included self-pollinating trees (e.g., Independence) and cross-pollinating trees (e.g., Nonpareil). The orchards are managed by PR Farms. We were able to complete this study in 2 years by virtue of having historical water and energy data in 2015 from PowWow’s Pump Monitor. Using 2015 as a base year and tracking yield data, PR Farms was able to implement advanced irrigation practices in 2016 and 2017, and assess the impact on its operation across organic and conventional fields. PR Farms implemented two irrigation schedules: (1) ET-based irrigation with soil moisture monitoring (ET-SMM); (2) partial ET irrigation using Regulated Deficit Irrigation at key times of the year (partial ET). Both irrigation schedules were managed under the same management platform (PowWow’s Irrigation Advisor), which facilitated the deployment for the ranch crew comparison thanks to text messages and weekly emails. Yield data and water use efficiency was tracked in 2016 and 2017 against 2015.

    Project objectives:

    The project took place in two almond orchards managed by PR Farms: Ranch 12 Block 7 and R12 Block 8. The orchards are located in Fresno County near Raisin City. They include 84 acres of conventionally grown trees planted in 2008 (2/3 Nonpareil, 1/6 Wood Colony, and 1/6 Avalon), 17 acres of conventionally grown trees planted in 2009 (2/3 Nonpareil, 1/6 Wood Colony, and 1/6 Avalon), 62 acres of conventionally grown trees planted in 2011 (2/3 Nonpareil, 1/6 Wood Colony, and 1/6 Avalon), and 78 acres of organically grown trees planted in 2011 (Independence). Our project will demonstrate the effectiveness of ET and partial ET irrigation scheduling at different stages of growth. The project included three phases: (1) Benchmarking of the irrigation infrastructure including the energy efficiency of the pumps, and the uniformity of the field; (2) Optimization of the irrigation schedule based on soil conditions, data from spatial CIMIs, crop models from ANR, and aerial images; (3) tracking the evolution of yield, water use efficiency, and energy efficiency for the fields under the program. Our goal is to demonstrate and quantify the economic value (yield per amount of water) and environmental impact (energy and water savings resulting in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions) of advanced irrigation strategies as a means to increase the sustainability of almond farming operations that rely heavily on access to clean water. We also expect to add unique insights on organic vs. conventional conditions and self-pollinating vs. cross-pollinating trees. The project will include education and outreach. Field days are planned at both fields during years one and two. 

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.