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Precision Irrigation: Where to Start?

Mike Basedow, Tree Fruit Specialist
Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture

July 6, 2018

As we enter the warm summer months, you might consider trialing the precision irrigation model on your farm to improve tree growth in your new plantings and maximize fruit size in your mature blocks.

Irrigation can be helpful in maximizing tree growth in the first few years of orchard establishment (Dominguez and Robinson, 2015). This is particularly important for trees planted with multiple large feathers in tall spindle plantings, as well-branched trees will have a disproportionally large leaf area that may not be adequately supplied with water by the trees' damaged roots. Drip irrigation ensures the leaders can continue to grow to their full potential, leading to higher yields within the first five years of establishment in irrigated trees.

Irrigation can also increase fruit size in mature plantings (Lordan et al, 2016). While fruit thinning is one area where growers can affect fruit size, providing sufficient water is also critical. Water stress, even temporarily, reduces the fruit growth rate.  Once the growth rate slows, this loss in size may be difficult to overcome, even when soil moisture levels return to normal during subsequent rain events.

The amount of water apple trees need on any given day heavily depends on a number of weather variables. These include the temperature, how windy and sunny it is, and the amount of rainfall the site has recently received. These factors are constantly monitored by NEWA stations, and are summarized under the Precision Irrigation Management tool, available at http://newa.cornell.edu under the "Crop Management" tab.  To use the tool, select your farm's weather station (or whichever NEWA station you use for your weather data) from the menu on the left hand side of the screen.  Then, enter your green tip date, the tree spacing, and the age of the block you would like to irrigate.


This will then bring up a table, showing the current day in green, the previous week in blue, and the following predicted week in tan. From here, you will have the option to adjust the numbers under the rainfall and irrigation columns. The rainfall column is prepopulated with NEWA data, but you can change it if you know your site received an amount differing from what NEWA recorded. You can also adjust the irrigation by gallons per acre (GPA). Using this column and the one on the far right, the Cumulative Water Balance column, is how you can determine how much water you need to irrigate your blocks. Looking at the Cumulative Water Balance Column, a positive number or a "0" indicates the field is saturated. We generally begin applying irrigation when the field is at 80% water holding capacity, which for clay loam soils often begins at about -20,000 gallons per acre. 

The other number you will want to determine is your application rate to know how many hours it will take for your system to put out a given GPA.  To determine this, you will need to know your emitters' flow rate in gallons per hour, and the number of emitters you have per acre.  Multiplying the number of emitters per acre by the flow rate will give you your application rate, which will be in gallons per hour per acre.  So, if you want to apply 5000 GPA, and your application rate is 622 Gallons per hour per acre, you can divide 5000 by 622, and determine you will need to irrigate for eight hours. 

There are a few additional recommendations for practicing precision irrigation. During the early season, apply the necessary irrigation once per week. Then in mid-June switch to two applications per week in clay or loamy soils, and every other day in sandy soils. When large rain events are predicted, do not irrigate the day before or three days after the rain event, as the upper layer of soil is likely to still be saturated.

So, if you would like to manage fruit size more precisely and maximize your tree growth in your new plantings, consider trialing the model on some of your irrigated blocks this season.  

Sources

Dominguez, L.I. and T. Robinson. 2015. Strategies to improve early growth and yield of tall spindle apple plantings. NYFQ. 23(2):5-10.

Lordan, J., T. Robinson, P. Francescatto, G. Reig, A. Wallis, and A. Lakso. 2016. Precision management: How and why we should irrigate. NYFQ. 24(1):15-19.



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Upcoming Events

2021 Spring Turn-Out Grazier Meeting

April 29, 2021

2021 Spring Turn-Out Grazier Meeting: Adapting livestock, Pasture Forbs, Spending Money. Presented by Cornell Cooperative Extension Educators: Ashely Pierce, Dayton Maxwell, and Aaron Gabriel.

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U-Pick Farm Practices During Covid-19 Pandemic

U-Pick is a critical direct marketing approach for many of our farms and provides
customers with a unique connection to fresh produce grown close to home. In light
of what we understand about the spread of COVID-19, new management practices
will be needed to protect your farm team and your customers. This document
provides recommended practices and communication strategies for U-Pick
operations for the 2020 season.

https://rvpadmin.cce.cornell.edu/uploads/doc_864.pdf

Growers-are you running low on fall pumpkins, etc?

The Produce Auctions located around the state may have what you need.  Check out all of the opportunities here: https://harvestny.cce.cornell.edu/submission.php?id=4

Resources from CCE ENYCHP!

We are developing new ways to connect with the CCE ENYCHP team this year! We have a Youtube page located at this link. Check out videos on Table Grape Production, Pest Updates and the 20 Minute Ag Manager - in 4 Minutes series

We have a Facebook Page here as well as an Instagram page. We keep these places updated with current projects, events, and other interesting articles and deadlines.

There are also text alerts available. Fruit and vegetable farmers in 17 Eastern NY counties can now receive real time alerts on high risk disease and pest outbreaks texted directly to their cell phone. The Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture program, which is supported by local Cornell Cooperative Extension associations, will now offer text alerts to those that enroll in our program in 2019. 

The text alerts will be reserved for important crop alerts that could impact management decisions immediately. For instance, if there were an outbreak of Late Blight in the area, this would be transmitted to vegetable growers.

Farmers can choose the crop for which they wish to receive updates. Additionally they can request that Ag Business Alerts be sent to them. These alerts might include due dates for crop insurance deadlines, market opportunities etc.

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Podcasts

Allium Leafminer (ALM) Update

April 8, 2021
Allium leafminer (ALM), a relatively new invasive species in the region, can cause devastating losses to scallions and leeks. Teresa Rusinek and Ethan Grundberg discuss their research to identify effective management strategies for the pest with host Crystal Stewart-Courtens.


Northeast SARE Progress Report: https://projects.sare.org/project-reports/one19-336/

Details the findings from Rusinek and Grundberg’s research to evaluate row cover and insect netting compared to two applications of Entrust and M-Pede to manage ALM.

University of Massachusetts 2020 Pests of the Year ALM Presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IadfeJ1dWVo for the recording and https://cornell.box.com/s/wbtigjuuc82ufktu1ghfb0b2dh166mk5 for the slides in PDF

ALM Lookalikes and Visual Lifecycle PDF: https://cornell.box.com/s/q2rdq3vuih5xzoy8dwfu63mm5q980drn

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