Events | Information | Experts | Media Coverage | Story Highlights
This new online seminar series from the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, with support from the California Department of Water Resources, brings timely, relevant expertise on water and drought from around the UC system and beyond directly to interested communities.
Some ways to deal with drought
I was recently in an orchard looking at what appeared to be avocado root rot. I was checking on the symptoms and quizzing the grower on the other cultural practices. The grower was prepared with soil, leaf and water reports. I asked how much nitrogen was being applied and it was something in the 50 pounds nitrogen per acre. When I saw the water report it listed nitrate in the water at the level of 84 ppm. Rarely do you see a yield response in plants when soil nitrogen exceeds 90 ppm nitrate. The soil nitrogen would pretty rapidly take on the nitrogen level of the water. So this grower was very close to the level at which no yield improvement would occur, and in fact would be increasing vegetative growth and hence increasing pruning problems. I looked at the leaf nitrogen levels and they were quite high, as well. I suggested that it would be a good idea to cut back significantly the amount of fertilizer applied, if not stopping application all together. There are many areas along the coast where avocados are grown where there are high nitrates in the water. Water can be a significant source of nutrients, as well as toxics, such as boron, chloride, sodium and total salts. Learn to read all your reports – soil/leaf/water – and figure out the puzzle of fertilizing appropriately.
Along the coast, it is very common to see windbreaks protecting the citrus and avocado groves. Invariably the first two rows next to the eucalyptus trees are shorter and less thrifty than the citrus further away from the windbreak. This is due to competition primarily for water, but somewhat due to light, as well. Often by putting emitters on the windbreak, the completion stops. Growers will also root prune between the windbreak and the first row of citrus. Those roots inevitably grow back and pruning must be done again. This also occurs in areas where there are oak trees or other natives that are planted in or around the orchard. Growers will frequently plant right up to the canopy or even under the canopy of the native tree(s), with a similar result seen with windbreaks.
It is important to remember the architecture of roots. Not all trees are exactly alike, but a general rule of thumb is that the active roots go out one and half times the height of the tree. So a 40 foot tree will have competitive roots out 60 feet away from the trunk. That’s why it is best to keep a distance away from a competing tree, because avocados and citrus are just not as competitive as an oak or eucalyptus.
In low rainfall years, this competition is even more intense. Significant defoliation of the crop plant can be seen. The grower then thinks that it is some disease and ponders what to spray, when they should actually be spraying more water.
- Author: Neil O'Connell
By the beginning of the irrigation season, the entire root zone is usually wetted by winter rainfall. Under low volume irrigation during the irrigation season only fifty percent or less of the root zone is wetted with each irrigation on most soil types. Soils with slow infiltration do not allow enough water to penetrate into the root zone to meet the plant’s water requirement. During an irrigation the water puddles while the soil beneath remains dry. Less than ten percent of the soil in the root zone may be wetted during an irrigation when water infiltration is a problem. Water storage in such a small volume of soil may amount to only two to three days of evapotranspiration. The tree may be under stress even though the amount of applied water exceeds the amount lost by evapotranspiration (ET). An infiltration problem is often associated with irrigation water low in salt and/or soils with inherently slow infiltration rates. Soil particles contain sites occupied by electrically charged ions such as calcium, sodium, and magnesium. In an optimum situation, a sufficiently high percentage of these sites are occupied by calcium which results in an aggregating or clumping effect among soil particles allowing water to penetrate. When the percentage of sites occupied by calcium is low and sodium predominates there is a repelling or dispersion of particles and water penetration is reduced. With increasing numbers of the exchange sites occupied by sodium ions the soil particles swell and repel each other creating a dispersion or loss of aggregation resulting in single particles. As this happens the porosity (or pore space) is reduced and the ability of water to enter is reduced. On the other hand as the exchange sites become more occupied by calcium the particles move closer together and aggregate or clump resulting in an increase in pore space. Therefore, soils that have a high percentage of the exchange sites occupied by sodium ions are dispersed and deflocculated and resist the entry of water while those with a high percentage of calcium ions are flocculated and favor water infiltration. With the use of low salt water over time, such as snow melt water, calcium may be removed from the soil particles exchange sites and these sites may then become occupied by another ion such as sodium.
Research addressing this problem of low infiltration was conducted in citrus under low volume irrigation by University of California researchers Peacock, Pehrson and Wildman. The soils type, at the experimental site of mature navel oranges, was a San Joaquin sandy loam characterized by a low infiltration rate. Canal water with a low salt content was used for irrigation. The trees were irrigated with a drip system every week day. Treatments began in June when soils typically begin to exhibit a reduced infiltration rate and were continued until mid-August but measurements continued until September. Simple devices for measuring the infiltration rate, called infiltrometers, were made from 12 inch PVC pipe and installed in the orchard. Chemical treatments and water were applied and rates of water infiltration were measured within these infiltrometers. Gypsum was applied weekly to the soil surface to maintain a slight excess continually on the soil surface and watered in resulting in gypsum application with each irrigation. Calcium nitrate and CAN-17 were each injected into the irrigation water. Calcium nitrate was introduced into the irrigation water at the rate of ten pounds per acre per irrigation. Calcium nitrate was applied daily, biweekly and in a single application. CAN -17 was applied daily, biweekly and in a single application. With these injections into the irrigation water, calcium was being introduced into the water at the rate of 3 milliequivalents per liter. Adding calcium continuously to irrigation water doubled infiltration rates over that of untreated low-salt water. It took 2-3 weeks before a treatment difference could be measured. However, the occasional additions of calcium nitrate or CAN-17 were not effective in maintaining infiltration rates. There were concerns that nitrogen application from these treatments could result in the nitrogen level in the tree being in excess of the tree’s nutritional requirements. Following this research equipment was made available on a commercial basis for regulated injection of materials into low volume irrigation systems.