At a recent meeting in Modesto covering drought and how it is being dealt with around the world, there was an interesting presentation by some Israeli researchers. They looked at the use of recycled water from sewage treatment plants and the use of desalinated water from the Mediterranean. The recycled water had much of the original mineral nutrients, but had been treated for microorganisms. They wanted to know how much of the nutrients could be accounted in the fertilizer balance applied to apple, pear and nectarine orchards. Their conclusion that after one year, there was a significant contribution and that leaf analysis had not changed, not yields after applying the effluent. This was only for one year, but I could imagine that after many years there would be a significant impact.
They also looked at desal water, and found that the process removed most minerals except for boron. They actually found that plants irrigated with this water ended up with calcium and magnesium deficiencies and more boron toxicity. The reverse osmosis membranes used in this case were not very effective at removing boron. In the case of many waters north of Los Angeles there are often high levels of boron in the water, and using RO water might accentuate the problem.
RO water also is usually too pure and the lack of salt causes soil to deflocculate - lose structure. Yes, you need some salt to have a healthy soil.
Read more about this trial at:
Bitter Pit in Apple caused by low Calcium
It ain't over yet, and this last week we had a wonderful 2 day meeting with folks who have dealt with drought in many different ways. Here are presentations made by people from Israel, Australia and California. Soon the actual videos will be available, but now see the powerpoints.
The grower panels are wonderful, but are not uploaded at this point
DAY I: UNDERSTANDING IRRIGATION WATER MANAGEMENT
Session I: California Response to Drought
9:15am // Overview of California Drought Response
Session II: Technology of Water Management
9:45am // Soil Water Sensing
11:00am // Salinity Measurement
12:00pm // Precision Water and Fertility Management During Deficit Irrigation
Session III: Alternative Water Supplies
2:00pm // Effects of Irrigation With Poor Quality Water on the Soil - California Experience
3:00pm // The Challenge of Sustainable Irrigation with Water High in Salts: Lessons from Dates, Olives and Grapevines
Session IV: Water Management Strategies During Drought
Day II: WATER MANAGEMENT FOR INDIVIDUAL CROPS & GROWER EXPERIENCES
Session V: Technology Demonstrations
8:30am // Using the Pressure Chamber for Drought Mangagement Decisions
9:00am // Irrigation System Evaluation
9:30am // Salinity Mapping for Water Management
Session VI: Conncurrent Breakout Groups
10:30am // Citrus - Israeli Experience: Long Term Effects of Deficit Irrigation, Salinity, and Rootstocks on Orchard Productivity
10:30// Almond Irrigation, the Israeli Experience
11:15am // Grapes - Wine Grapes Irrigation - Coastal Vineyards
11:15am // Deciduous Nut Crops - Almond Irrigation - Israeli Experience
1:00pm // Avocado - Israeli Experience
1:00pm // Grapes - Wine Grapes Irrigation: San Joaqin Valley
1:45 // Subtropical Crops - California Experience
2:00pm // Deciduous Nut Crops - Walnut Irrigation
2:30pm // Grower Panels
3:15pm // Concluding Remarks
Transpiration is essentially a function of the amount of leaves present. With no leaves, there is no transpiration and no water use. The extreme case is tree removal. If canopies are pruned there is reduced water use. The more canopy reduction, the more transpiration reduction. Most citrus produces terminal flowers, so there is also a reduction in yield, but there is also typically an increase in fruit size as competitive fruit growing points are removed. There is a balance between yield reduction and tree water use, but typically a 25% canopy reduction results in a 25% decrease in tree water use (Romero, 2006).
The severity of the drought will determine how drastic the canopy should be trimmed. The trees can be skeletonized so that only the main structural branches are left. The tree is whitewashed to prevent sunburn and the water is turned off. As the tree gradually leafs out, the water is gradually reapplied in small amounts. It's important to check soil moisture to make sure the tree do not get too much or too little water. The trees if pruned in the winter will often flower a year later in the spring, but normal production will often take three years for the trees to recover their previous yields.
Skeletonizing should first be practiced on orchards that are the poorest producing. In those areas that get too much wind and have lots of wind scarring or elevated water use, those areas that are most prone to frost damage, those areas that have been always problematic, such as fruit theft. In areas that are healthy and a new variety has been contemplated, this is the time to topwork and replace that old variety. In areas that have been poor producing from disease, this is the time to get rid of those trees.
Canopy sprays of kaolinite clay have shown some promise in reducing transpiration with negligible yield reduction (Skewes, 2013; Wright, 2000). If these are used, they should be done under the advisement of the packing house to make sure the clay can be removed in the packing house.
With a reduced canopy, there are often other benefits besides water reduction. There is better spray coverage for pest control. There is also reduced fertilizer use. New growth is normally coming from nutrients that are now being mined by a large root system and fertilizer applications can be significantly reduced or eliminated altogether for a year until fruit set recommences.
Kerns, D. and G. Wright. 2000. Protective and Yield Enhancement qualities of yield of kaolin on lemon. In: Eds. G. Wright and D. Kilby, AZ1178: "2000 Citrus and Deciduous Fruit and Nut Research Report," College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona. http://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1178_3.pdf
Skewes, M. 2013 Citrus Drought Survival and Recovery Trial. HAL Project Number CT08014 (16/12/2013). SARDI. http://pir.sa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/238414/SARDI-Citrus-Drought-Survival-Recovery-Trial.pdf
Navel trees skelotinized and topworked, ready for rain and more profits in the future.
Citrus response to irrigation water deficits have demonstrated that sensitivity of yield to water stress is dependent on the phenological phase in which water stress was applied. Adequate water supply is of major importance during citrus flowering and fruit set. A second critical period coincides with the period when fruit growth is rapid (fruit set to harvest). Depending on the level of water stress developed, the abscission of flowers and young fruits will be affected in the first case, as will fruit size in the second case.
For navels and mandarins it is possible to identify these critical periods in the crop and possibly allow stress when the trees are not in those critical periods. Some varieties though are complicated by having overlap of critical periods when another crop is present at the same time. Valencias can have two crops on the tree at the same time in spring and into summer harvest and coastal lemons can have fruit in all stages from fruit set to mature fruit at all times of the year. In the case of navels, reductions of applied water by 25% or more have resulted in no fruit yield reductions, if those water reductions do not occur during critical periods (Goldhamer, 2006; Domingo, 1996; Hutton et al, 2007). Water reductions during the rapid expansion period can result in significant fruit size reduction, though, and this period should be avoided if fruit size is critical to marketing (Goldhamer, 2006; Hutton et al, 2007).
In the case of coastal lemons, the stress should be avoided when the period of the most profitable crop is in rapid expansion, this is normally the summer crop. Each grower would need to identify, when the most profitable fruit size is important. Growers in areas that have more summer heat than the coast might practice a ‘Verdelli' irrigation practice, where water is withheld for a period of time, in order to force flowering that can often result in more summer fruit being harvested the following year (Maranto and Hake, 1985).
Domingo, R., Ruiz-Sanchez, M.C., Sanchez-Blanco, M. J. and Torrecillas. A.1996. Water Relations, growth and yield of ‘Fino' lemon trees under regulated deficit irrigation. Irrig. Sci.16: 115-123 http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02215619#page-1
Goldhamer, D. and N. O'Connell. 2006. Using Regulated Deficit Irrigation to Optimize Fruit Size in Late Harvest Navels. Citrus Research Board. http://citrusresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2006-GOLDHAMER1.pdf
Hutton RJ, Landsberg JJ, Sutton BG. 2007. Timing irrigation to suit citrus phenology: a means of reducing water use without compromising fruit yield and quality. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture (47): 71–80. http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/EA05233
Maranto, J. and K. Hake. 1985. Verdelli summer lemons: a new option for California growers. California Agriculture 39(5): 4. https://ucanr.edu/repositoryfiles/ca3905p4-62870.pdf
Phenological stages of navel orange.
Avocados and Water
Avocados are the most salt and drought sensitive of our fruit tree crops. They are shallow rooted and are not able to exploit large volumes of soil and therefore are not capable of fully using stored rainfall. On the other hand, the avocado is highly dependent on rainfall for leaching accumulated salts resulting from irrigation water. In years with low rainfall, even well irrigated orchards will show salt damage. During flowering there can be extensive leaf drop due to the competition between flowers and leaves when there is salt/drought stress. In order to reduce leaf damage and retain leaves, an excess amount of water is required to leach salts out of the roots zone. The more salts in the water and the less rainfall, the greater leaching fraction.
Drought stress often leads to diseases, such as black streak, bacterial canker, and blight (stem, leaf, and fruit). Leaf blight (Figure 1) is often confused with salt or tip burn (Fig. 2), but is actually a fungal disease that forms an irregular dead pattern on leaves and leads to defoliation. Blight is associated with lack of water, while salt burn is due to poor quality water and poor irrigation habits. Leaf blight often shows up after Santa Ana conditions, when growers get behind on their irrigations and the root zone dries out suddenly. There has been a high incidence of this disease the last two years. In both cases, defoliation leads to sunburned trees and fruit which can be severe economic losses. The only way to prevent these conditions is to keep up with your irrigation schedule.
To get your water to go further, it is important that the system is tuned in order to get the best distribution uniformity (DU). Many of our systems were installed 40 years ago and old age can lead problems, such as clogging, broken emitters, mixed emitters that put out different amounts and leaks. With poor DU, some trees get too much water and others do not get enough. Even fairly new irrigation systems can have poor DU, especially after a harvest. Poor water pressure on our step slopes is probably our main problem. A DU of 80% means 10% of the emitters are putting out more than the average and 10% are putting out less. The irrigator to compensate for the under irrigated 10% will run the system 10% longer to make sure the under irrigated trees get enough and over irrigating 10% of the trees with 20% more water than they need. A call to the local Resource Conservation District office can get a free DU evaluation and recommendations that are usually pretty reasonable to follow.
Aside from improving DU, it is important to know when and how much water to apply. When to apply can be evaluated by the hand or feel method (https://nutrientmanagement.tamu.edu/content/tools/estimatingsoilmoisture.pdf) which is fast and cheap. Or it can be done by tensiometer, Watermark or some of the more expensive electronic sensors. But these tools only tell you when to irrigate, not how much. This can be done by turning the system on (once you have made sure you have a good DU) and over the period of the irrigation insert a piece of rebar into the soil to determine the depth of infiltration. The rod will go down as far as the soil is moist and stop when it hits dry dirt. When you have about two feet of infiltration you will know how long to run the system to get an appropriate amount of water. A typical loam usually takes about 150 gallons per tree to two feet. Another way to get an approximation of the amount to apply is to use the Irrigation Calculator at http://www.avocadosource.com/tools/IrrigationCalculator.asp.
Managing the Tree Canopy
Significantly pruning trees can reduce the amount of water transpired by the tree. Trees that are about 15 feet in height, can be pruned by half and they will use half the water. Massive 30 foot trees would need to have a major pruning to significantly reduce water use. In extreme drought conditions and for the long term welfare of the grove, large trees should be stumped (Figure 3) or scaffolded (Figure 4) and paint white to prevent sunburn. Scaffolding usually produces fruit much sooner than stumping, because retaining a significant part of the trunk and branches the tree does not exert as much energy to regrow and retains buds that have been under apical dominance for less time. When new shoots appear they should be headed back to force lateral branches which is where the flowers will form.
All the prunings should be chipped and left in the field. This will help conserve water and help control Phytophthora root rot. Root rot or crown rot trees should not be pruned until they have been brought to health with one of the phosphorous acid formulations. They all are effective. Pruning a sick redirects the trees energy to fighting off the disease when it starts pushing new growth and then does not have the energy to fight off the disease. Or if you do have areas that are diseased (sunblotch, root rot, crown rot, etc.), windblown, in shallow soils or areas of recurrent frost, you might just remove the trees completely to save water.
White kaolin (Surround) applied to leaves has been shown to reduce leaf temperatures and water loss. This can be used, but under the direction of the packing house, since it if it is applied to fruit, it is very difficult to remove.
These are some steps that a grower can take to improve water management and create a more efficient use of water to help survive this period of not knowing how long this drought will last.
Figure 1. Leaf blight is a disease that occurs with lack of water of any quality.
Figure 2. Salt damage from poor quality water and poor irrigation habits.
Figure 3. Stumped avocados for lack of water.
Figure 4. Scaffolded avocado that should produce fruit sooner than a stumped avocado.