Updated: Apr 4
2022 season is about to kick off and we're happy to share this year's first AlmondBeat report, based on real-time data from over 10 million almond trees of our customers in Central Valley, California, from Tehama county to Kern county.
Some key issues we'd like to address:
When and how much to irrigate at the start of the season
The heat is on
Keeping important nutrients in the ground
Different irrigation tactics
At Phytech, we like to refer these questions - to the trees and check what they are telling us.
AlmondBeat report #1 , you're good to grow
At the start of the season, growers face some critical irrigation dilemmas that will affect their trees' health and future productivity such as when they should start irrigating and how much water should be applied.
As California struggles with drought conditions, rising water prices and water monitoring regulations like the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) - these questions become ever more important. Let's take a close look at some key issues
Low surface water, heat raises its head
"It's looking like a low surface water year", says Customer Success and Product Manager Mark Sherfy, "managing every bit of water will be important yet again. We'd rather be proactive than reactive, so checking daily your trees' status and health can help you determine trends and spot problems before they get too bad".
"Most growers will be in a mind set of mild to no irrigation because it's still raining", adds Tom Zeron, Phytech's California Customer Success Director", But sticking to the calendar, rather than hearing what trees are telling you can be a costly mistake". "Data from thousands of sensors across the valley shows that MDS (Maximum Daily Shrinkage) has been on the rise and is nearing stress levels. Also the fact this is the first heat wave has its own “shocking” effect on trees that until now enjoyed low temperatures".
It's also worth noting that the occasional rain during this time of year, depending on your soil profile and duration and amount of rain, might not fill the soil. So again, no need to guess. Just hear what trees are saying.
Here's a status snap-shot of millions of trees, monitored in the valley. A can be seen, yellow, oranges and some reds which indicate stress, appear among the green
Watch out for those reds:
When should irrigation start?
In the next couple of weeks, sugar production and water demand will gradually start to increase, indicated by a steady positive growth rate. With Phytech's sensors communicating trees' water-demand, MDS (Maximum Daily Shrinkage) and growth in real-time, identifying when the trees are waking up and should get some water - becomes a lot easier.
A daily shrinkage value around 100 or the season's first "yellow" plant-status are amongst those indicators that trees are coming out of dormancy. Irrigating too early in the season, when the tree can "suck" water from the soil's deeper layers (still relatively soaked from weeks of rain), is not just inefficient but might also affect the tree's development.
The cost of too much water
At this early stage of the season, the tree needs important nutrients that are available at the soil's upper part. Applying too much irrigation - too soon - might wash away those nutrients, and affect trees' development. Let the trees "drink" from the deeper part of the soil while continuing to "feed" on its nutrients.
Over-irrigation can also lead to diseases at the root-zone level caused by excess water. The opposite is also true: avoiding to irrigate when the temperatures are rising and trees are experiencing the season's first stress-days might harm root-zone formation.
This "saving mode" is also valid for your fertigation consideration. During this period, trees' nitrogen uptake ability is relatively low so applying too much of it might result in leaching and of course - a waste of money.
Short Vs. long cycles
So irrigation at this early stage of the season is a delicate balancing act. Although the deeper part of the soil may still enjoy moisture, on hot days, trees are prone to stress because some of the top soil is dry. Growers should apply short irrigation cycles to surgically deliver water to the upper part of the soil (0-1 feet). Long cycles, a common practice during the peak of the season, might wash nutrients too deep as well as create oversaturation in the deeper root zone.
By listening to their trees growers can save water and keep their trees' health and productivity. The root-zone gets just the right amount of water to overcome stress (without developing disease) in order to continue its formation, and nutrients are available for the tree, which has enough water to absorb them.
Here's how a short cycle strategy looks from last season:
Irrigate, listen, adapt
By listening to their trees and getting clear visibility of their water-demand, growers are not bound to predetermined irrigation tactics, and can optimize delivery by applying it according to what their trees communicate in real-time. Applying irrigation and instantly observing the effect on the tree make irrigation much more dynamic and effective both in terms of cost saving and production optimization.
Growers who have made the transition to higher frequency irrigation scheduling, are supported by Phytech's seamless integration with automation solutions which allows them to automatically execute their irrigation plans.
That's it for now.
see you on our next AlmondBeat report