Delayed Irrigation To Boost Efficient Water Use In Tree Nut Industry?

Water usage in the tree nut industry could be optimised thanks to new research from the University of California, Davis, revealing that crop production could actually be improved if irrigation is delayed until later in the season and trees’ water needs are measured instead.


It was found that trees growing in water-saturated soil early on in the season don’t develop roots deep enough for them to survive and thrive.


Bruce Lampinen, orchard management specialist with the Department of Plant Sciences, explained that having water at the surface means that the roots below suffer and trees find themselves left with a shallow root system that isn’t as effective as it could be for extracting moisture from the soil later on.


Apparently, the tree will actually let you know the best time to irrigate and just because the soil may look dry doesn’t mean there’s a problem, with the researchers using pressure chambers to work out how hard the plant in question is working to take moisture from the soil.


It was found that trees experiencing moderate water stress based on the readings from the pressure chamber fare the best, with irrigation beginning in the middle of June onwards, a few weeks after standard watering would usually begin.


Walnut grower Hal Crain allowed the team into his orchard to test irrigation optimisation and he had this to say about the findings: “It’s a game-changer. It’s clear to me you can improve nut quality and yield by applying water based on what the tree wants and needs, rather than just watering when it’s hot outside and the soil is dry. That’s a big deal for walnut growers and for the entire agricultural industry.”


A recent report published in the Nature Sustainability journal found that the UK is falling behind developing countries where sustainable agricultural practices are concerned. It was found that places like West Africa, Bangladesh and India are happier to change systems and try out different strategies to boost food production and biodiversity than here in the UK.


Co-author of the paper and chief executive of the Organic research Centre professor Nic Lampkin explained that although there are lots of farmers here that are being more sustainable in their approach to farming, more must still be done in order to improve soil, protect water resources, support biodiversity and boost production.


He cited key challenges as being redesigning sustainable intensification in farming systems, setting up policy measures that will scale this even further and establish agricultural knowledge economies.


“The conclusion of our study is that sustainable intensification may be approaching a tipping point where it could be transformative. From this study our major hope is that system redesign can begin, although we recognise that this will need supportive national and international policies to succeed,” Mr Lampkin went on to add.


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