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2021 AlmondBeat report #1: Trees woke up! When and how much should you irrigate?

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

As our southern-hemisphere growers are busy harvesting, in the northern-hemisphere, things are just warming up, and trees are waking up.

2021 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.

Two important questions that we'd like to address in the current report:

  • When trees came out of dormancy and how can we identify it

  • How to optimize irrigation at the start of the season

At Phytech, we like to refer these questions - to the trees and check what they are telling us.

AlmondBeat report #1 , here we go

Phytech team

A wake up call

Analyzing real-time data from over 10 million trees, our research team identified that trees came out of dormancy during March 1-2. This follows last year's trend when trees woke up earlier than usual on Feb 28th, compared to 2017-2019 seasons, where data showed that dormancy ended during 8-10 March.

Here is how the wake-up point for 2021 looks through Phytech interface:

And here's a clear "orange" that signaled the end of dormancy last year

When should irrigation start?

Identifying this point of time is an important milestone. 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.

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. Irrigating before the tree is out of dormancy might result in precious water and nutrients being wasted.

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.

A balancing act

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.

Dynamic, optimized irrigation

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

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