`Precise Irrigation Key to Long-Term Productivity - Olive Oil Times

Precise Irrigation Key to Long-Term Productivity

By Thomas Sechehaye
Sep. 28, 2023 13:41 UTC

Despite recent rain across California, the threat of water short­ages in the Golden State remains.

New research pre­dicts that thou­sands of drink­ing water wells across the Central Valley will run dry by 2040, when the state’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, meant to curb exces­sive agri­cul­tural pump­ing of ground­wa­ter, takes full effect.

Research on olive water man­age­ment in California has been neglected, and grow­ers still rely on tools devel­oped a long time ago.- Giulia Marino, orchard sys­tems assis­tant pro­fes­sor, UC Davis

As a result, researchers have put renewed effort into improv­ing water man­age­ment tech­niques for sev­eral crops, includ­ing olives.

To that end, the tree sys­tems lab at the University of California, Davis is inves­ti­gat­ing the pre­cise man­age­ment of irri­ga­tion in olives to achieve high yield and increase prod­uct qual­ity.

See Also:Researchers in Andalusia Develop AI Tool to Improve Irrigation Efficiency

According to their web­site, the inno­v­a­tive project com­bines bio-mete­o­ro­log­i­cal, remote and plant-based physi­co­log­i­cal infor­ma­tion to develop grower-friendly deficit irri­ga­tion strate­gies for California table and oil olive sys­tems.”

Precise irri­ga­tion is key to ensure the long-term pro­duc­tiv­ity of olive orchards,” Giulia Marino, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of coop­er­a­tive exten­sion in orchard sys­tems at the UC Davis plant sci­ences depart­ment, told Olive Oil Times. Olive acreage has rapidly increased in California within the last two decades.”

However, research on olive water man­age­ment in California has been neglected, and grow­ers still rely on tools devel­oped a long time ago,” she added.

Marino’s research focuses on using phys­i­o­log­i­cal infor­ma­tion to develop man­age­ment prac­tices to improve effi­cient resource use and prof­itabil­ity of orchards.

Information and inno­v­a­tive tools can empower pro­duc­ers to imple­ment pre­cise irri­ga­tion prac­tices to respond proac­tively to drought, reg­u­lated irri­ga­tion and water lim­its.

With this project, we will develop and out­reach new infor­ma­tion to enhance olive farm­ing oper­a­tion pro­duc­tiv­ity through pre­ci­sion tim­ing and vol­ume of irri­ga­tion water,” Marino said. We aim to help olive grow­ers increase water pro­duc­tiv­ity as the indus­try faces sup­plies now ham­pered by cli­mate change and ground­wa­ter man­age­ment poli­cies.”

The lab is work­ing to iden­tify water con­sump­tion, develop pro­to­cols and design guide­lines to improve water man­age­ment with tech­no­log­i­cal advances.

Our lab is work­ing on three top lines of inquiry,” Marino said. First, we are char­ac­ter­iz­ing how much water a typ­i­cal Californian’ olive orchard uses through the sea­son.”


Drip Irrigation

Second, we are devel­op­ing pro­to­cols to reduce water dur­ing peri­ods when the olive is more drought tol­er­ant to improve pro­duc­tiv­ity and yield qual­ity,” she added. Third, we are devel­op­ing guide­lines to imple­ment inno­v­a­tive sen­sors and tech­nolo­gies in olive water man­age­ment.”

The results offer grow­ers an opti­mistic out­look, as the data con­firms water-effi­cient and cost-effec­tive improve­ments.

Based on our results, grow­ers could reduce water appli­ca­tion by 8 inches per acre (50 cen­time­ters per hectare), which is equiv­a­lent to 217,232 gal­lons per planted acre (2,031,979 liters per hectare) of olive,” Marino explained.


Apart from the envi­ron­men­tal impor­tance of this, we cal­cu­lated, based on the cur­rent price for water and elec­tric­ity to run the irri­ga­tion sys­tem, that this would reduce agri­cul­tural costs by 18 per­cent,” she added.

A com­mon mis­con­cep­tion is that the olive tree is so drought-resis­tant that irri­ga­tion is rel­a­tively unim­por­tant. However, Marino clar­i­fies this myth and offers fur­ther insight.

See Also:Water Efficiency, Sustainability Must Go Hand in Hand in the Olive Grove

The fact that olive is such a drought-resis­tant crop may lead to the idea that it is not impor­tant to irri­gate it pre­cisely,” Marino said. Actually, it is exactly the con­trary.”

Precise irri­ga­tion in olive groves is essen­tial for ensur­ing sus­tained pro­duc­tiv­ity of the sys­tem, par­tic­u­larly in high-den­sity hedgerow plan­ta­tions that are becom­ing very pop­u­lar,” she added.


Along with pro­duc­tiv­ity, Marino said pre­cise irri­ga­tion is nec­es­sary to improve olive oil qual­ity.

Overirrigation would pro­mote exces­sive growth, thus reduc­ing light pen­e­tra­tion, impair­ing bud dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and pro­mot­ing alter­nate bear­ing,” she said. Overirrigation can also reduce oil phe­no­lic con­tent.”

Underirrigation can reduce fruit growth, return to bloom, and also impact oil phe­nols,” Marino added. Water has to be applied at the right quan­tity and at the right time.”

According to UC Davis Agriculture and Natural Resources, irri­ga­tion man­age­ment strate­gies enable farm­ers and pro­duc­ers to meet the water demands of a crop.

The avail­able irri­ga­tion water must be applied in the most effi­cient man­ner pos­si­ble. Crop irri­ga­tion strate­gies for olives may include deficit irri­ga­tion strate­gies as well as irri­ga­tion sched­ul­ing for effi­ciency.

Evapotranspiration irri­ga­tion sched­ul­ing, soil mois­ture mon­i­tor­ing and plant-based irri­ga­tion sched­ul­ing may be employed to best use lim­ited water sup­plies.

With the increas­ing need for irri­ga­tion water man­age­ment in California, Marino reflected on her early inspi­ra­tion for this work and shared her future vision for olive irri­ga­tion.

I grew up in Sicily, sur­rounded by rain­fed olive orchards,” she said. I became fas­ci­nated by the capa­bil­ity of these trees to sur­vive. They can­not move, so they have to imple­ment strate­gies to resist scorch­ing sum­mers with­out dying and even pro­duc­ing fruits.”

Marino envi­sions a future of tech­nol­ogy-enabled pre­ci­sion irri­ga­tion sys­tems in every­day pro­duc­tion.

I am eager to study these mech­a­nisms and to imple­ment inno­v­a­tive tech­no­log­i­cal tools to mon­i­tor them in the field,” she said. We are mak­ing huge steps, increas­ing our pre­ci­sion in every­day life. We are now able to use our phone to count our steps or to tell us where to go.”

The same rev­o­lu­tion is hap­pen­ing in agri­cul­ture, and I am excited to con­tribute to this change,” Marino con­cluded.


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