Soil tensiometers can read the soil moisture content at the root zone and can tell a grower how much irrigation is needed for that crop on that day. By monitoring the soil moisture, farmers can more precisely irrigate their crops.
Farm Manager Frank Estrada employs precision irrigation practices which Reiter Berry Farms has helped to pioneer with the Hortau company. This system is monitored through the Wireless Irrigation Network (WIN), a pilot project of the Pajaro Valley Community Water Dialogue.
Reiter Berry Farms has been certified organic by CCOF for fifteen years. They grow all types of berries but focus on strawberries, which take up 370 acres on eleven farms sold directly to Driscoll’s Berries. Reiter has worked with Hortau technology, a tension-based irrigation monitoring system, to pioneer this method for monitoring their water use. Over the past three years, through this cutting-edge technology, they have cut water usage by an average of thirty percent.
The system works with in-field probes that read water tension in soil. “Soil tension measures how hard a plant has to work to pull the water molecule away from the soil particle,” says Jeremy Otto, the manufacturer’s representative for Hortau’s West Coast operations.
The wireless field probes then send tension diagnostics to the base station through cell phone networks, and the farmer uses a wireless device to monitor irrigation needs. This allows the farmer to access the information remotely in real time, and to use these precise measurements for their irrigation schedules.
To implement the system, fields are mapped to decide probe and base station locations. Then the probes and base station are installed, including the probes which are buried at whatever depth the farmer wants to monitor. Reiter’s Frank Estrada says “once everything is online it’s as easy as having your laptop or cell phone, logging onto the network and checking your probes.” Reiter has nine fields with nine probes.
The Wireless Irrigation Network (WIN) is a pilot project of Pajaro Valley Community Water Dialogue that alloweds everyone to spend less on the install of these systems by sharing the cost. Probes are generally $800 each plus $7,100 for a base station and $197 per month for service, but in the Pajaro Valley, it is $150/month to join the WIN project. WIN offers a network of base stations providing broad coverage. When farmers buy into the WIN network, they avoid the initial base station cost. The Pajaro Valley aquifer has been in overdraft since about 1950 according to Kelley Bell of Driscoll’s Berries. Bringing precision to the equation of farming in this region has started to create a ripple of positive change to the aquifer management issues in the region.
2013 EcoFarm Conference Audio: Pajaro Valley Community Water Dialogues: A Model for Collaboration
2012 EcoFarm Conference Audio: Advanced Irrigation Monitoring
Driscoll’s Sustainability: http://www.driscolls.com/about/sustainability
Pajaro Valley Community Water Dialogues: http://www.pajarowatershed.org/Content/10111/CommunityWaterDialogue.html
This project is funded in part by a water stewardship grant from the California Department of Food & Agriculture.