A call from a small grower, surprised at the sudden decline of the avocado trees. It must be a disease was the grower's thought. Well driving up to the site, there were numerous trees with canopies indicating drought stress. In fact most of the trees looked like they had had the water turned off. When I got to the orchard, all the trees had a similar look (see photo below). The fringe of the canopy had turned brown/red where the leaves had collapsed rapidly, while the interior leaves were often still green. All the trees had a similar cast. It turns out the water district had required a cutback just when temperatures were going into the 100's. NO water, no cooling effect of transpiration and the outer fringe of leaves collapsed. This is called the “clothesline” effect. It's like a sheet on a clothesline where the margins of the sheet dry first and gradually the body of the sheet dries. The same thing happens in a canopy. The outside leaves are the first to dry out and then the rest of the canopy goes. When you see a whole orchard go down suddenly, that does not fit into a disease pattern. There's usually an epicenter where it starts – where it's colder, wetter, dryer, hotter, more overgrown, etc. and spreads out from there if it is going to spread. It turns out that the automatic irrigation system had gone down and the grower hadn't noticed until too late. When you see reddish tinged leaves, it means the leaves went down fast. When they are brown, it means they slowly went down over weeks or months.
With all the dead points in the tree, it is now open to disease – twig/leaf blight caused by one of the Botryosphaerias. These decay fungi are everywhere in an orchard decaying organic material on the orchard floor. With the dead material in the tree, now the tree becomes a potential feast for the fungi. The dead stuff has to come out, or the fungus will start eating into the tree. I suggested that instead of pruning out all those little points of death, that they cut back the whole canopy to major scaffold branches. In doing so, it would rapidly and cheaply remove the dead material and reduce the water demand.
In a recent meeting the topic of where to go for irrigation information came up. Well there's no substitute for attending a class in irrigation, such as offered at Cal Poly SLO (http://www.itrc.org/classes/iseclass.htm ,
but here's some written sources to get you started thinking.
So after five years of drought a grower told me he finally gets it. Farming avocados in Goleta with limited well water and poor quality and expensive, rationed delivery, he has finally cut out trees that were not performing well. These were wind sept trees, areas with root and crown rot. Tree were either stumped or removed altogether. The idea is to focus on those trees that are productive, and are they ever. They are getting the water they need and their schedule has been changed. Previously irrigation had been on a fixed schedule of 2 weeks and got 24 hours per set. The schedule was dictated by the time it took to get around to all 300 acres. Now trees are irrigated one to two times per week with shorter sets, from 5-8 hours depending on the time it takes to get 18 inches of penetration in sandy ground. Yields per acre have significantly increased, largely because non-productive areas have been eliminated and the remaining trees are getting what they need.
He is also anticipating irrigation needs – projecting a schedule.
The driving forces for water loss in avocados in decreasing effect are sunlight (day length, cloud cover), wind, humidity, and temperature. More light, more transpiration. More wind, more water loss, lower humidity, more water loss. And least of all if temperature which is what we normally respond to, but which the tree responds the least. Usually, though the most desiccating conditions occur during periods of high, dry winds that blow out of the Great Basin – the dread Santa Anas or in the case of Santa Barbara the Sundowners. When they start blowing, it's hard to play catchup. It takes a while for water to infiltrate and for the roots to start taking it up and filling all the drained leaves and stems. Now the grower more carefully watches the forecasts and makes sure to get water on before the high demand conditions arrive. With multiple blocks he wants to get all of them wetted to a normal irrigation depth and then it's time to start the cycle over again. He keep an eye on the nearest CIMIS station to see how much the water demand is increasing and adjusts the irrigation frequency. Importantly, h keep your eye on how fast the soil in the root zone is drying out and then makes even smaller and more frequent applications.
When it comes to making the water meet the needs of the trees, he is really customizing each irrigation.
The Irrigation Training & Research Center (ITRC) of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo tested 28 different pressure-compensating models of microirrigation emitting devices from a total of nine manufacturers in order to compare independent laboratory testing with manufacturer specifications.
The test results indicate that:
The majority of ~0.5 gallon-per-hour emitters (drippers), regardless of manufacturer exhibited:
Good uniformity of manufacturer
Had excellent response to pressure variation
Had consistent flow rates within the nominal operating pressure range
But that the percentage of well-performing products decreased as the designed flow rate increased. Many of the emitters designated as microsprinklers or sprayers, although pressure compensating did not compensate at the normal operating pressures. Often the pressure compensating feature did not start performing until much higher pressures were achieved. Often this occurred when clogging occurred and this clogging often occurred where the pressure diaphragm was located and was not performing. Sediment would get in back of the diaphragm. Effectively the emitters were not pressure compensating. The testing procedure of numerous medium and high flow models also found individual pieces were found to be defective. These faulty emitters had a measurable effect on the evaluation for those models.
Read more at: http://www.itrc.org/reports/pdf/emitters.pdf
Sand media filters are commonly used in agricultural microirrigation systems. They have the advantages of simplicity and large capacities and are favored by many farmers and designers over other filtration hardware when there is a lot of organic matter in the water. The Irrigation Training and Research Center (ITRC) at Cal Poly San Luis looked at sand filters to see if it were possible to use lower-than-accepted backflush pressure and thereby reduce the total pressure required for irrigation systems. By lowering backflush pressure it would be possible to design a system that could run at an overall lower pressure and hence cost. The various components of microirrigation systems run at lower pressures than the backflush pressures recommended for most sand media filters.
The conclusions are:
There are substantial pressure differences amongst different models and designs during backflush and filtration
The main pressure loss is at the backflush valves
If designed right large backflush flow rates can be accomplished at low backflush pressures (this is critical for proper detritus removal).
There are substantial differences among underdrains of various models which affects pressure requirements
No large intimal high pressure was necessary to break up the media bed, a common practice.
Different underdrain designs create different patterns of cleaning the media.
There were substantial differences among models in the amount of sand discharged from the system at backflow rate of 190 GPM. Sand discharge should actually be avoided since it's an indication of preferential flow and poor cleaning.
These are some new ideas, and even though they are meant to reduce pressure and energy use, they are also good management suggestions.
If this strikes your fancy, read more at http://www.itrc.org/reports/mediafilters.htm