`A Call for Smarter Irrigation - Olive Oil Times

A Call for Smarter Irrigation

Jan. 28, 2012
Julie Butler

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Using satel­lites or remote-con­trolled model’ planes or heli­copters to scan olive plan­ta­tions could be one of the keys to smarter irri­ga­tion, Spanish researchers say.

The tem­per­a­ture data obtained would help pro­duc­ers divide plan­ta­tions into zones accord­ing to likely water needs. They could then install just a few sen­sors in each of these zones in order to bet­ter mon­i­tor the water stress of the olive trees and irri­gate accord­ingly — reduc­ing water use and improv­ing oil qual­ity, accord­ing to the sci­en­tists at the Institute for Natural Resources and Agrobiology in Seville.

Part of the institute’s Irrigation and Crop Ecophysiology group, they recog­nise that not all pro­duc­ers would have the knowl­edge nec­es­sary to inter­pret the sen­sor data but sug­gest that mod­ern tech­nol­ogy could again come to the res­cue. Cooperatives, for instance, could pay an expert to man­age the sen­sors and ana­lyze their data and then send spe­cific advice to each farmer — via cell phone — on how much and when to irri­gate. Such sys­tems are already in place in some areas of Spain.

In a paper pub­lished by Interempresas, the researchers say irri­ga­tion is increas­ingly used on olive plan­ta­tions and knowl­edge of how best to use it is becom­ing more sophis­ti­cated but not fil­ter­ing down enough to farm­ers.

Regulated deficit irri­ga­tion (RDI) — which involves sched­ul­ing peri­odic cycles of water stress — is the most com­monly used sys­tem in the esti­mated 2.3 mil­lion hectares of irri­gated olive plan­ta­tions world­wide.


That’s not just because there is often a lack of water in olive-grow­ing regions, but because it is also the method that deliv­ers the best crop pro­duc­tiv­ity. In other words, the high­est net income per unit of water used for irri­ga­tion,” the paper says.

It can achieve sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings in water use (rang­ing from 25 – 60 per­cent in lower costs) with­out sig­nif­i­cantly affect­ing pro­duc­tion and, in many cases, with notable increases in oil qual­ity.”

However, any irri­ga­tion strat­egy when poorly man­aged can sig­nif­i­cantly reduce crop yield and, fur­ther­more, shorten the life of the plan­ta­tion. Which is why appro­pri­ate knowl­edge and equip­ment are needed to man­age RDI with skill and pre­ci­sion, in par­tic­u­lar to mon­i­tor the olive trees’ water stress level,” the experts warn.

The arti­cle goes on to eva­lute the var­i­ouis water stress mea­sure­ment meth­ods and con­cludes with a call for a change in atti­tude by olive grow­ers to accept that the path to bet­ter crop pro­duc­tiv­ity and, ulti­mately, agri­cul­tural sus­tain­abil­ity, lies in more effi­cient irri­ga­tion man­age­ment.”

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