SWEEP in Almonds

Spotlight on SWEEP: Almonds

Author: Shulamit Shroder

In 2016, Sill Properties in Kern County received a grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP). They used the funds to set up a more advanced irrigation management system. They installed soil moisture monitors, flow meters, a variable frequency drive, and weather stations. This allowed them to measure water flow and movement in their orchards. They can also now calculate soil moisture at depths of 18, 24, and 36 inches. They also converted 252 acres from flood irrigation to drip irrigation.

Benefits

Efficiency: Their overall water usage decreased, thanks to the more informed irrigation decisions they could now make. They now know when to best apply water to their trees, based on soil and weather conditions. Their energy usage has also diminished.

Productivity: They are now reporting increased yields in their orchards with this technology. The decrease in water and energy usage has also allowed them to save money in the long run.

Disadvantages

Maintenance: This farm pays a monthly fee to get their equipment adjusted and serviced and to receive their data, which is expensive. However, they felt that the increase in yields and decrease in expenses outweighed the maintenance costs.

Learning curve: As might be expected, it took some time before the managers and workers completely understood the system and had worked out all the kinks. Once they had mastered it, though, they felt that it was a good tool. The new system was worth the time invested in learning how to use it because they can now measure exactly how much water they are using.