“As water resources become more scarce, this system would allow the farmer to make the final decision on when and where to precisely irrigate,” Upadhyaya said.

The project includes economic analysis assistance to help the grower decide if the system is affordable. Ag Tools, a web-based tool developed at Oregon State University, helps producers to make short-, medium-, and long-term decisions on system affordability.

As the research project nears completion, the program will be closely evaluated through a survey of industry stakeholders - including growers, commodity groups, Extension specialists, researchers, and others – to determine if it is commercially viable or needs refinement.

The project will enter its final year this fall. Upadhyaya will request a fourth year of work using current grant funds to make the final project decisions and complete scheduled Extension activities.

Project investigator Michael Delwiche of UC Davis says the system offers many benefits for specialty crop growers.

 

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“The system offers producers a more efficient way to manage water,” Delwiche said, “As water becomes more expensive, it will allow producers to manage water more efficiently to get more crop per unit of water.”

Delwiche says the technology could also open the door for more fertigation improvements which could reduce runoff and groundwater contamination.

In wine grapes, the system could help growers maximize profitability through improved grape quality.

“The ability to more precisely control irrigation in wine grape vineyards might allow the grape grower to gain more uniform crop maturation which could increase profitability,” Delwiche said.

Upadhyaya says the first portion of the precision agriculture system - variable rate irrigation management - is currently available from Camalie Networks. The final components, detecting plant water status in real time to assist in irrigation management, could be available within five years.

 “The technology to efficiently and effectively deliver water is here,” Upadhyaya concluded. “We have to use water wisely. Plant water management is the key. We are making good progress toward that goal.”

The USDA specialty crops funding grant is under the contract SCRI–USDA-NIFA No. 2010-01213.

For more information, contact Upadhyaya at skupadhyaya@ucdavis.educ.

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