What is in this article?:
- Zach Sheely is the fourth generation of his family to farm — and he admits that can be a daunting legacy.
- California agriculture long ago melded computers and farming/ranching, but Zach Sheely is taking it to a far more intuitive level, thanks to the touch screen technology of the Apple iPhone and iPad.
- The New York Times predicts iPads and copycat tablet computers will be the fastest-adopted technology in the history of digital devices. Numbers back that up — iPad sales are projected to reach 28 million this year, and by 2012 more than 63 million.
Pulse drip irrigation
He is working at Az-Cal on the adoption of pulse drip irrigation management. This allows for shorter water sets, with more oxygen getting to plant roots. It is not necessarily aimed at saving water — drip is already accomplishing that through improved water efficiency. Rather, pulse irrigation benefits plant growth and development by not waterlogging roots with long irrigation sets.
“I would say 80 percent of our irrigation on pistachios is right on and another 5 percent is OK,” Zach says. “However, 5 percent of the trees are smaller than the rest and seem to be getting too much water, either from over-irrigating or leaking emitters after the system is turned off.”
These impaired trees are not in nice, neat rows or blocks, but in small clusters that need to be identified quickly and the overwatering situation corrected.
With SiteToDo, aerial imagery and GPS on the iPad or iPhone, Sheely can go directly to affected trees — no guessing.
“We brainstormed about how we could solve the overwatering problem once we identified the trees. It was obvious the trees weren’t using the water that was being applied.”
After identifying overwatered trees, Sheely shut off water to 25 percent of the eight inline emitters per tree by taping them off with a self-adhesive red tape.
Is it worth the effort to focus on 5 percent of trees?
It obviously improves the production of individual trees, he says, and makes the field as uniform as is practical, but one of the biggest reasons to fix a relatively small number of trees is for harvesting efficiency.
With the pulse system, water doesn’t reach the soil surface. “Looking at the ground, it’s so dry you wouldn’t think it was being irrigated, but where too much water is being applied, the surface gets wet. On the West Side of the San Joaquin, that means harvesting machinery gets stuck, and that slows harvest.” With drip, farmers will irrigate up until the day harvest begins.
The iPad imagery also helps Sheely instantly identify good areas of the field.
Processing tomato harvest is all about timing to meet cannery delivery schedules, and SiteToDo can help that along, he says.
“For example, if an aerial image identifies a hot spot in a tomato field that needs to be harvested first, the harvest manager can quickly identify that area on aerial imagery on the iPad and show the harvest foreman exactly where he wants the harvest to start.”