From the Fields® - July 9, 2008
By Mark Watte, Tulare County
We are about as efficient as you are going to get. Our trees are drip irrigated and all of our row cropland is row or flood irrigated, so you are limited as far as what you can do there. We've done some extra wheel packing where you run tires up and down the rows just before you irrigate to compact it and crush the clods a little bit.
We've been doing, and continue to do, all that we can to increase our water efficiency. We've spent money on tying pipelines together. As our pumps pump less and less water, it becomes a bigger issue where you have the opportunity to tie more of the pipelines together and get more of the pumps hooked together in a bigger volume. And we've overhauled a couple of pumps to increase efficiency.
Our principal crops are cotton, alfalfa and corn that was in wheat that we double cropped for cattle feed. We are in a dairy area here. Terminus Dam is the one that most affects us as far as local water and it was about 77 percent of normal. We've got a moderate irrigation run, so at least for this season, and this is what we said a year ago, we'll limp to the finish line.
By Paul Sanguinetti, San Joaquin County
We have a full allotment of what we are going to need to irrigate for this year. We are being more careful when we irrigate to make sure that we don't drain more water than we need. This season I have added two extra workers to tend to our irrigation needs better. We're trying to save the surface water so we have something for next year.
We're doing some drip irrigating. We moved to the drip because we had some tomato fields that were having some disease problems and we're trying to see if that will help. This is new for us, so we want to see if we can get enough production to make up the difference in the cost. Your crops have to produce extra tonnage to make up for the $1,000 an acre for the drip.
When prices are high, you've got to maximize your output so you have to make sure that the crops get a sufficient amount of water. We want to get all we can because we don't know how long this is going to last.
We pump water here so we're always trying to save because when you save water you save electricity and when you save electricity you save money. Farmers have always been frugal. We try to maximize our output and not waste water because that costs money.
By Casey Hoppin, Yuba-Sutter Counties
With the crops we grow, we really can't change the way we irrigate. Many of our crops, other than our dryland crops, are all furrow or flood irrigated.
I've noticed many people in our area have sold their rice water and left their ground sitting fallow. There's more of this fallow rice ground than what we normally see, which is unfortunate.
Many farmers are double-cropping sunflowers, which aren't a real big consumer of water. We double-cropped 250 acres of sunflowers. Normally you pre-irrigate, then plant. This year a lot of guys are actually planting dry and then irrigating, which actually saves one irrigation.
We've double-cropped about 350 acres of wheat, which is something that we commonly don't do but with the price of wheat and people planting so much of it this year, ground is actually in short supply. We farm about 100 acres of honeydew melons and we'll dry farm those. They will be pre-irrigated and we won't irrigate them throughout the season.
I believe our water supply is going to change a lot this year. Between now and the end of summer, we are going to see water being short in ways that it has never been before. My water comes out of a well so whatever I take, goes right back into the ground.
By Tyler Nelson, Mendocino County
Farmers make every effort to take advantage of new technologies that help us use our water more effectively.
Our vineyards generally have dual systems. We install overhead sprinklers for frost and heat protection. These sprinklers are the insurance policy. To reduce sunburn we run the overhead sprinklers for vineyards that do not tolerate or are not protected from the high temperatures. We run these sprinklers at a much lower pressure, reducing the quantity of water we use and achieving significant cooling affect. The sprinklers are used for frost protection when the vines are susceptible to freezing. The sprinklers are turned on as needed on a block-by-block basis.
Installation of drip irrigation systems has saved an incredible amount of water as well as fuel. Waste from evaporation is greatly reduced by watering with drip systems. One pump can be used to supply water to more acres while using drip systems, as opposed to using overhead sprinklers.
Tools for monitoring when to water are critical to water management. California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) is one tool that can be very helpful to create water budgets that explain when to water and how much. The vineyard industry has also used several tools to measure the need for more water, including gypsum blocks, tensiometers, neutron probes, pressure bombs and the feel method.
We have found using multiple methods coupled with experience gives the best results. Either of the two systems can be wasteful without regular maintenance. Broken sprinklers and blown-out drippers are fixed every time we turn on a system.
A recent survey conducted by the University of California Cooperative Extension, Mendocino County, showed average irrigation system distribution uniformity for grape vineyards and pear orchards was 88 percent, a high value indicating systems are distributing water evenly and efficiently. This is an excellent indicator showing growers are managing their irrigation systems well.
By Keith Watkins, Tulare County
Our surface water supply has been reduced this year in a lot of areas so what we're doing is relying more on groundwater, which impacts us with additional pumping costs. We are 100 percent permanent planting so basically everything is either on a fan jet or a drip so I don't know where we could get much more efficient than we already are. We're doing water scheduling and we believe we have enough water to meet our needs for the year, but it all comes at a price because of the additional pumping costs.
We finished picking navels on June 25 so our navel crop is finally finished. It has been one of the longest navel seasons I think, on record. We started early and finished late and it was a very large navel crop and I think we did a pretty decent job of getting it picked and marketed.
By Dennis Meisner Jr., Madera County
Central Valley growers like myself were relieved that the new year brought with it a strong, wet storm that finally delivered substantial rain along with snow in the Sierra. Irrigation management is our foremost concern this year as we are certain to be more dependent on groundwater to make up for the anticipated shortage in surface water availability.
We are currently pruning our vineyards and following behind with the shredding of brush in the fields. After we finish with the removal and replacement of the broken and aged end posts, it will be necessary to repair any busted catch wires prior to tying of the cane-pruned vines.
I remain cautiously optimistic about the speculation of this season's grape values as I continue to see large amounts of grape acreage being pulled out of production. This should help bring the supply and demand back towards balance. Once the ground firms up and we can get equipment back in the fields, we plan to start herbicide berm spraying operations.