Good management practice for water
Growers can build their eco-credentials for water through a management approach of ‘continuous improvement’
There are many advantages for growers who are smart in their use of water. Good management of water allows growers to maintain the best outcomes for tree health and both crop quantity and quality. This enables growers to have a positive impact on business outcome and also have the confidence to meet community and market expectations around sustainable water management and positive environmental outcomes.
Continuous improvement is about constantly checking and adjusting…. making small improvements every day with the expectation that these changes will add up to something of significance for your business.
Growers practising continuous improvement proactively monitor and maintain their system. This moves growers from a reactive (wait until its broken then fix it) approach to one of preventative maintenance. All growers should aim to ensure the following:
- That their Irrigation system/frost protection system is efficient
- Water use for irrigation/frost protection is scheduled, managed and use is justified.
- Those managing water use (operators) for irrigation or frost protection know what they are doing (trained)
- Records of activity and use are kept and are auditable
1. The Irrigation System is Efficient
Maintenance of existing systems
- Have a holistic management view of your irrigation system
- An annual performance assessment to demonstrate efficient performance
- Identify areas requiring maintenance now and in the future
- Identify opportunities to improve the system
For new developments and upgrades
- Any new development, upgrade or redevelopment should be consistent with the Irrigation Design and Installation Codes of Practice and Standards. Using an Accredited Irrigation Design company is the best way to achieve this.
- Any new development, upgrade or redevelopment is commissioned to demonstrate it will deliver what it was designed to deliver.
Benefits of a well-managed and efficient irrigation system:
- Ensures a grower can continue to meet compliance, resource consent conditions and business goals (plant health, productivity, environment, etc..)
- Optimisation of both system and its components (e.g. Can be as simple as confirming you are operating at correct operating pressures)
- Longer life of your irrigation system infrastructure and components
- Better water delivery to the plant – improved plant health and yield
- Energy efficiency (running costs)
- Avoids water waste (environmental implications)
- Enables accurate forward planning and budgeting
- Avoids unexpected breakdowns
- Allows better informed and broader conversations on environment, future development opportunities and at a community level; land and water improvements (conservation & management) through first hand evidence
2. Irrigation scheduling
Irrigation scheduling is the process used by irrigation system managers to determine the correct frequency and duration of watering. It is about optimum use and matches the supply of water with crop demand.
- Scheduling allows you to determine how much water your trees will require for a single irrigation event.
- You can then take this knowledge and calculate and spread the water available to you (through your consent) over the season.
- The amount and frequency of irrigation required constantly changes with the factors influencing plant demand including weather, crop canopy, root depth, crop manipulation – external factors like agrichemical applications, cost of energy and value of crop yield may also influence demand.
- Perennial tree crops require regular crop factor adjustments
- Water use when scheduling must be compliant with your consent conditions – this is a legal requirement.
These are the basic approaches to scheduling your irrigation,
- Soil moisture monitoring choose the right monitoring equipment for their soil, land use activities and irrigation system type, and then locate, install and calibrate it correctly. See *Accessing, managing and understanding the data is important (see below)
- Soil-water budgets
- Manual entry onto an excel spreadsheet of irrigation and climate data supported with actual soil moisture measurements. This approach will require regular crop factor adjustments and so while it reduces monitoring costs it is more challenging to manage.
- Soil water budget software – Provides an automated approach to irrigation and climate data input but this needs regular checks for accuracy. Software and technology must be able to network (talk to each other). Growers can find themselves locked into purchasing a suppliers own sensor and telemetry equipment for software programme use.
3. Frost protection
- Good management practices to increase plant hardiness and retain heat within the orchard can be carried out ahead of cold events (passive systems approach)
- Typically irrigation is used as an active means of frost protection
- Careful management of the amount of water and the time of application is critical if this approach is to be effective – but also for on-going plant health
- Read here for Frost protection basics
- Read here for Frost protection – how much is it worth?
& know what you are doing (Operators are trained)
- Training is an important component of water management – for those using irrigation/frost protection systems it should also include health and safety considerations.
- Practical irrigation manager training days and irrigation development workshops provide a great way for growers managing water use to upskill and be safe.
- Resources exist for irrigators including guides, templates and checklists through New Zealand Avocado relationship with IrrigationNZ
4. Importance of keeping records
National and regional regulations as well as community and market expectations are driving the need for more rigorous record keeping by growers around their use of water and its effect. Data and record keeping will become a part of everyday practice and growers will increasingly be expected to be able to say with evidence ‘I used this much, for this reason and it had this outcome’.
- Records are key evidence of good management. Without evidence you cannot be accountable.
- Records also provide a useful tool for analysis of performance and continual improvement.
- Kept records provide a benchmark from which identified improvements can be implemented and then a retest can provide evidence of improvement
The growing role of technology
Technology is increasingly becoming a part of everyday management of orchards.
As growers build their eco-credentials around good resource use technology will increasingly play a part through:
- Access to quality, ‘real-time’ information
- Real time information for timely on-orchard management decisions
- Real time information to allow activities and resource use to be precise
- Providing justification in the use of the resource for plant health and crop production
- Delivery of precise and auditable resource use record – this will give markets and communities confidence in grower and industry commitment to good environmental outcomes
These technologies may include:
- Orchard soil mapping –classification & properties (physical, chemical)
- Soil moisture monitoring
- Canopy mapping
- Yield mapping
- Frost protection systems
- 3rd party data management systems
- On-line applications
- Fully integrated precision irrigation/frost systems (take many layers of on-orchard data, analyses, interprets and providing a real time management tool)
Accessing, managing and understanding the data is important
The service industry is offering increasingly sophisticated programmes that can integrate the many layers of on-orchard information (soil properties, soil moisture, crop canopy, current and forecast weather etc.). Growers can receive this information in ‘real-time’ direct to their computer or phone allowing for immediate decision-making.
Growers can invest in a fully integrated system or invest step by step with that will suit their needs. But take care that all your technologies, existing and new, can be integrated to work together and that software systems will also integrate to receive data, so growers receive the full benefit of their investment. Do your homework as this is a fast moving area of development.
Fully integrated or networked systems will provide improved information for decision-making but will also mean considerably more data for growers to understand. Accredited data management companies can help growers analyse and interpret data for improved on-orchard decision making.
When significant investment is made in new technologies and these management programmes, it is essential growers include a commissioning step (quality control) as the final step of implementation to ensure the programme operates correctly before sign-off.