Spencer Cooper, Almond Board of California’s senior manager of irrigation and water efficiency, said his first year on the job has been interesting- and encouraging.
California almond growers, he said, have been eager to improve their “crop per drop” irrigation efficiency, and multiple workshops held throughout almond growing regions have been well attended.
Coming into the job near the end of an historic drought did change his game plan at first, Cooper said.
“This winter growers were dealing with saturated soils, water logged trees, a very different situation from the last two years. They were looking for answers in March and April about how long to wait before they started irrigating.”
Cooper’s position was created by the Almond Board to meet the goals for the Accelerated Innovation Management program which was adopted by the board of directors to promote farming practices that will meet future needs of the almond industry as well as consumers and communities.
California’s almond industry includes many small growers who manage their own orchards. Cooper said some of the new technology might be intimidating at first, but he wants them to first understand the basics of water use and application.
Cooper has been conducting small focus groups of 12 to 15 to help growers and farm managers understand the fundamentals in the Almond Irrigation Improvement Continuum. He said the early efforts were aimed at the basics including maintaining irrigation systems – whether they are flood, drip or micro sprinklers and how proper maintenance affects their systems.
“We want to make sure they can do the small things right,” Cooper said.
He has also done field visits to evaluate irrigation systems. One of the areas he has been assisting is in grower evaluation of system distribution uniformity, a first step in the continuum. System maintenance can be overlooked, but it can have a great impact on water use efficacy for growers, Cooper noted.
One of the notable results of the grower meetings has been the growers voicing that the changes called for in their irrigation management are not as complicated or difficult as they thought. Instead of being intimidated by technology, Cooper said they were focusing on what growers need and what they want from technology.
Cooper said he is also making growers aware of the grant opportunities to upgrade their irrigation systems and to consider how those upgrades will improve ability to efficiently use irrigation water.
Irrigation industries have also been very supportive of his efforts, Cooper said.
Up next will be a series of workshops to determine specific needs of growers in water management. The first part of the continuum, which works on moving growers toward adoption of water efficient management, focused on the basics of water management. The next step for growers will be showing them how to implement real time data.
The continuum has three proficiency levels with a program of irrigation management and scheduling practices in key areas. It helps growers integrate those at each level:
- Measuring irrigation system performance and efficiency
- Estimating orchard water requirements based on evapotranspiration
- Determining water applied
- Evaluating soil moisture
- Evaluating plant water status
Cooper said it is important for the industry going forward to be aware of the opportunities for improvement. There are about 6,800 almond growers, and many may not be aware of the programs to help them be more efficient with their irrigation water.
Cooper came to the Almond Board from the private sector after working for Irrigation Matters in Tulare. He specialized in irrigation management tools, including sensors, water chemistry and water treatment.
Growers who want to know more about irrigation management and scheduling practices or attend a workshop may contact Cooper at email@example.com or (209) 604-3727.