How We Grow

2020 May/June How We Grow

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A L M O N D O R C H A R D 2 0 2 5 G O A L S WATER USE Know Before You Go: Shopping for Irrigation Technology There's an old saying that claims "the best thing a farmer can put on his field are his own footsteps." This is as true today as it was generations ago – knowing the needs of individual orchard blocks, and then selecting the right irrigation technology and provider, are invaluable to maintaining the health of your orchard and improving your bottom line. That said, using today's advanced technologies growers can assess their orchards' water needs remotely, placing their eyes and, in a way, footsteps in multiple orchards at the same time. Improvements in irrigation and water use efficiency play an important role in the industry's effort to achieve its Almond Orchard 2025 Goal to reduce the amount of water used to grow a pound of almonds by an additional 20%. This means it's crucial for growers to select the product that best fits their business. There are many irrigation monitoring technology companies for growers to choose from, each with a wide variety of service options available – though such abundance may make selecting the right product difficult. Tom Devol, senior manager of Field Outreach and Education for the Almond Board of California (ABC), advises that the key to choosing the right technology is to ask providers specific questions to determine which irrigation system will work best for your operation. But what is the most helpful thought process for you to work through before making a large irrigation investment decision? Devol, who has worked with Central Valley growers on irrigation management for more than 20 years, breaks it down into four simple concepts. 1 Envision your future operation Devol stresses that growers should have a long-term goal in place before shopping for irrigation technology. "The first big question I ask growers is, 'What's your plan? Why do you want this technology in the first place?' You really need to understand the 'why' because while a certain technology may take care of your immediate needs, it may not support future growth," Devol said. Whether the goal is to monitor soil moisture, in-field weather or plant stress, Devol suggests you have those goals in place before speaking with a provider in order to help both parties determine what product is the best fit. It's also important to realize that some irrigation system providers only offer individual services, while others may provide a broad range of options. 2 Consider your end user In addition to determining the "why," prior to contacting a provider you should also determine who in your business will use the product on a day-to-day basis. The end user will be responsible for interpreting data and managing the equipment. This means he or she should be comfortable handling the technology, otherwise the technology will inevitably go unused. Including the end user in your decision making can save you a lot of time down the road. 3 Be a picky shopper Once you have considered those two factors, Devol says you are ready to shop. But there are still important questions you should ask technology providers before making a purchase. "There are a lot of offerings out there, though most of them are similar in certain ways," Devol said. "If your goal is to understand soil moisture, for instance, there are really two approaches to doing that – measuring your available water or measuring the force needed to extract water – and there are fifty companies that sell those two approaches." "The big question you should ask a provider, then, is, 'How do I extract the data from the field?', and as a follow up, 'Are there individual cell modems on every sensor in the field or is there one base station with radio technology to communicate between all the sensors?' This is crucial to determine because the way data is transferred directly correlates with the technology's cost and efficiency," Devol said. Understanding the cost structure behind a piece of technology is crucial, since pricing isn't uniform between all providers. "The most important section in the Irrigation Continuum is page 4, which outlines your path towards continuous irrigation improvement." — Tom Devol For more than 20 years, Senior Manager of Field Outreach and Education Tom Devol has worked closely with Central Valley growers on irrigation management practices and strategies to optimize efficiencies. 3

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