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Can almond trees directly dictate their irrigation needs?

  • Author(s): Goldhamer, David A.
  • Fereres, Elias
  • Salinas, Mario
  • et al.
Abstract

Many of California’s fruit and nut growers have already embraced more efficient irrigation systems (drip and microsprinkler) and adopted scientific irrigation-scheduling methods that closely match net applied water to evapotranspiration (ETc). Further improvements in irrigation efficiency may be possible by using regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) to purposely stress trees at specific times of the season. Tree-based RDI triggers for irrigation scheduling, such as stem water potential (SWP) and maximum daily trunk shrinkage (MDS), as opposed to soil and atmospheric measurements, have the major advantage of being directly linked to crop productivity. The current state of the art in plant-based scheduling is SWP and MDS, but adoption is hampered by the lack of field studies validating its effectiveness. We conducted an experiment in a commercial almond orchard to evaluate the suitability of MDS measurements as indicators for RDI management. Small, electronic sensors affixed to the tree trunks continuously recorded diameters from which MDS values were gleaned and used to schedule two RDI treatments. We found that with the less severe RDI regime, less water was applied relative to the cooperator’s nearly fully irrigated trees with no significant reduction in kernel size or other important almond parameters. In fact, the RDI regimes accelerated hull-split, decreased kernel water content and increased the nut-kernel percentage at harvest — all desirable almond results. We have demonstrated, for the first time in California, that RDI can be successfully scheduled based entirely on continuously recorded, tree-based electronic data. We believe that MDS measurements have some operational advantages over SWP, including lower labor costs and the ability to be directly incorporated into remotely operated, electronic controllers.

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