Almond growers take out the guesswork
Modern irrigation systems are helping to reduce risks and remove some of the guesswork in almond production.
The ability to determine tree requirements and calculate the amount of water needed on a daily basis reduces waste and gives better results. It is similar to using regular soil and leaf tests to determine nutrient needs rather than using a standard annual fertiliser program.
Merbein almond growers Neale and Deb Bennett are among the estimated 95% of people in the industry who are now using drip irrigation.
The technology itself, however, is not the benefit, but how it is used. This applies to physical and practical things like the type of drippers and their placement as well as the use of data on water use and forecasted demand to guide management.
Every property will have its own set of characteristics that will influence what is done. The Bennetts, for example, have fairly shallow topsoil over hard limestone. This means rather than one dripper close to the trunk, use of two a metre out each side plus pulse irrigating provides a more lateral pattern of wetted soil.
“The different circumstances growers face means there is no magic bullet that makes everything standard and simple,” Neale said.
“And although we have modern irrigation systems and information available to help decision-making, we still need to look at our trees to see how they are faring.”
Neale, who is on the Almond Board of Australia, says fine tuning irrigation management is not only about application efficiency (i.e. reducing the amount of water wasted as drainage) but also production and economic efficiency. This is because of the market demand for quality almonds. It can be false economy to cut back on water so much that almonds are pinched and yields are low.
Water is the biggest driver of yield and stress can be a significant influence on quality.
Although there is a range, most almond growers in the district apply about 12 megalitres per hectare per year, which is similar to that applied for citrus. As such, almonds can be seen as a large user of water but the water is used wisely, little is wasted and it contributes to an export food industry. Currently 40% of production is exported, even with the high value of the Australian dollar.
Neale and Deb have 14 hectares of almond trees and also provide a contract harvesting service.