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Flow – what I learned about irrigation management

Posted by Alex Shih | January 7, 2016

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend Tilth Producers of WA annual conference.  We will be posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

Alex Shih, student guest-blogger.
Alex Shih, student guest-blogger.

This year was my first time attending Tilth Producers Conference and what an experience it was! I feel almost silly to have never attended in years past; the thought of the people, workshops, and opportunities that I’ve missed is almost distressing. The 2015 Tilth Producers Conference wasn’t just the first conference of its kind that I’ve attended, it was the first conference I’ve ever gone to and so in terms of expectations I really didn’t have any. Having never gone to any conference prior to Tilth was, perhaps, a good thing: I entered the conference as a blank canvas, absorbed everything I could, and left dotted by a rich, colorful array of knowledge and information.

Center pivot irrigation. Photo: lostinfog via Flickr cc.
Center pivot irrigation. Photo: lostinfog via Flickr cc.

As a native Californian who has personally witnessed the severity of the ongoing drought in my home state, any issue related to water use and agriculture is of great importance to me to say the least. With that said, of the many workshops presented over the weekend, one that stood out to me in particular was Irrigation Management for Drought by Dr. Troy Peters. In his presentation, Dr. Peters showed the differences in water holding capacity in different soil properties, and went further into detail on how different soil types require different irrigation systems to improve irrigation efficiency and decrease water loss. Dr. Peters provided visual examples of different irrigation systems (e.g., drip line, booms, center pivots, etc.) and he described their effectiveness, coverage area, and potential sources for water loss.  The presentation led me to recall my past experiences installing irrigation systems, and the factors and variables related to irrigation efficiency that I’ve never considered before. On a separate note, knowing there is fierce competition for water usage rights in California, growers are pinned in a race against one another to drill and tap into underground reservoirs for crop irrigation before they run out; instead of irrigating crops in a smart and efficient way, the current “use it or lose it” model is to irrigate as much as possible, whenever possible. I can’t help but to imagine how much of the irrigated water used in California has gone to waste because of this.

Irrigation Scheduler mobile app screen shot.
Irrigation Scheduler mobile app screen shot.

To irrigate efficiently involves more than just choosing the right irrigation system. Knowing when to irrigate and how much to irrigate requires knowledge of the crop, historical records and future prediction of weather pattern, and of course, soil water holding capacity. To help growers and farmers, and even urban gardeners, make informed decision on irrigating their fields, Dr. Peters demonstrated a mobile app, Irrigation Scheduler, that lets the user know when and how much to irrigate based on the location, future weather prediction, crop, and soil type. When Dr. Peters showed the app during his presentation it was a hit with audience. Anyone, from the backyard gardener to the thousand-acre conventional producer, can appreciate the technology, convenience, and the work that went behind developing such an app in order for growers use water more efficiently.

In sum, the information and knowledge I gained from attending Dr. Peters presentation, Irrigation Management for Drought, was both eye-opening and method changing. I only wish the information presented by Dr. Peters can somehow find its way to my neighbors and friends in California, and I can start by spreading the mobile app.

Lastly, I would to thanks WSU CSANR and Tilth Producers for giving me the opportunity to attend the 2015 conference. I’ve gained much knowledge and experience in just three short days, and I’m looking forward to it again next year.

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