How We Grow

2021 Nov/Dec How We Grow

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WATER USE Irrigating From Space: The Future is Closer Than You Think Of all the almond orchards Zac Ellis manages, one in particular was buzzing with activity this growing season. It was not just with the normal bees and natural pollinators making the rounds, but a team of leading researchers calibrating instruments, flying drones, and preparing for a satellite to pass by overhead. Though it may sound like a science fiction version of the orchard of the future, it is actually an effort to help make today's orchards more efficient. Olam, Ellis' employer, is one of three grower collaborators who have opened their orchards for arguably the largest and most coordinated almond water use efficiency research initiative to date. "Water use efficiency is the forefront of our concern for the need for innovation," said Ellis, who is the senior director of agronomy at Olam. "We're really focusing on how we can become more efficient and effective with the water resources we have." Growers like Ellis have been stretching the limits of water use efficiency for years, embracing changes like drip and micro irrigation and optimizing irrigation timing. But another dry year has many asking: where can we find even more efficiencies? The next level of water use efficiency The Almond Board of California (ABC) has partnered with a team of researchers to unlock the next level of water use efficiency: an accessible and low-cost way for each grower to monitor actual orchard evapotranspiration (ET) – the amount of water that transfers back into the atmosphere from soil or transpiration by plants. This is an important step toward achieving the almond industry's orchard 2025 goal to reduce the amount of water used to grow a pound of almonds by an additional 20%. "Every orchard has different conditions that will cause its actual ET to be slightly different," said ABC Associate Director Agricultural Research Sebastian Saa. "The ability to know exactly how much water your orchard is using down to a 30-by 30-meter area is an important tool for water use efficiency." 9

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