The Irrigation Classroom

The Irrigation Classroom

If you’re a Northeastern grower or somewhere in the Midwest, you’ve probably encountered floods on the rare occasion. If you’re a Southern grower or operating in California, drought has likely parched your plants over the last few years. If you’re growing anywhere else in the United States, you might have even had an unfortunate taste of both.

Drought and floods alone are just the surface of grower water issues, though. Dig a little deeper, and regulation, recycling and general water treatment questions are bound to spout.

But where are growers to turn with their irrigation questions? Why not educators, research institutions like the recently formed Water Education Alliance for Horticulture and industry organizations like the Irrigation Association?

“There is a lot of ongoing research on water use, water requirements of plants and different ways to deliver water through irrigation systems. But water quality is also an issue as growers use recycled and reclaimed water, so information is needed on how to treat disease, algae and nutritional problems,” says Paul Fisher, an associate professor and Extension specialist in the Environmental Horticulture Department at the University of Florida who also leads the Water Education Alliance. “We’re partnering with leading researchers and water treatment companies to help educate growers.”

The Water Education  Alliance For Horticulture

The Water Education Alliance, hosted by the University of Florida, was established in 2008 as a partnership between universities and water treatment, media, fertilizer and irrigation management companies designed to help growers use water efficiently and sustainably. The alliance’s goal is to provide growers with information on water treatment and conservation and to fill information gaps on technology efficacy.

“Growers would all like to use less water and reduce runoff,” Fisher says, “but they are concerned about issues such as pathogen spores in recycled water. Growers come to me and ask, ‘What should I use to treat my water?’ I kind of feel like a politician answering them. The answer usually is: ‘It depends.'”

New Products
Mini Fertigation
Hanna Instruments
For those working below 35 GPM of flow, the new Hanna HI 5,000 Mini Fertigation System was designed to fill a void for small greenhouse, open field or Hydroponics growers. The HI 5,000 allows smaller growers to blend multiple fertilizers to an optimal EC.  The system also monitors the pH so growers will know if any acidity adjustment will be necessary.

Pre-Spaced Drippers
Netafim USA
The thinwall Space-It Dripperline has pre-spaced drippers designed to be placed directly over the top of pots. The location of each dripper is visibly marked on the tubing, making positioning of the pots quick and easy, just place the pot under the mark on the dripperline and save valuable installation labor costs.

Unfortunately, the best treatment option needs to be tailored to each grower. As Fisher says, answers tend to hinge on filtration, water source and a grower’s priorities for particularly sensitive crops. His job, along with alliance collaborators who include his university and industry colleagues, is to help growers sift through a series of decisions and select a mix of approaches that might work for their particular operation.

One way the Water Education Alliance is addressing issues is through case studies on its website.

“We’re going to be working on decision-making flow charts this year in terms of (1) choosing filters and (2) helping growers pick between different water treatment chemicals and technologies,” Fisher says. “We see that type of interactive tool as another way of making our website more than just a filing cabinet of articles and other things.”

So far, Fisher is pleased with the response the grower community has given the alliance. More than 3,000 people have visited the website, he reports, and the alliance’s first interactive case study on designing a water treatment system has been well received.

“There’s a lot of interest in the Water Education Alliance from people who have an existing disease issue, a problem with the quality of their well or surface pond water, or are dealing with water regulations,” Fisher says. “The questions I hear from growers are very specific. They want to know how to control EC or how to address a high EC or alkalinity problem. Or pythium may be causing crop losses.”

By bringing together experts from a wide range of industry, the alliance provides growers with a more balanced view of water treatment options than a sales person promoting a single technology, Fisher says, and the university helps provide a neutral source for information.

Irrigation Association

As the Water Education Alliance for Horticulture focuses on water treatment, the Nursery Greenhouse Common Interest Group within the Irrigation Association (IA) is looking at how it can act as a voice for growers on regulation and also provide education resources.

“In many areas the green industries in general, and growers in particular, have not done a great job of building relationships with regulatory bodies or documenting their water requirements and management practices. That puts you at a disadvantage in participating in policy development–if you’re at the table at all,” says Demie Moore, manager of corporate relations for Aquatrols and current chair of the IA Nursery Greenhouse interest group. “The Nursery Greenhouse Common Interest Group hopes to help growers address these issues.”

In addition to helping the nursery and greenhouse industries be included in the IA’s government affairs activities, the interest group is working with the IA Education Foundation to build an educational track that will help growers become more knowledgeable about efficient irrigation design and management. The interest group is also identifying a variety of documented best management practices with the goal of creating a BMP database that growers can turn to for necessary information.

The common interest group also hopes to partner with other groups to get solid numbers for how much water is required for crops, as well as the full value of this industry. “We need credible evidence for how much water particular crops need,” Moore says. “We need evidence of our broad economic relevance and we need to show that we are being responsible users of water when we are in dialogue with regulators.”

Moore points to the effect on growers in the Southeast over the last couple years as the kind of thing that can happen when growers do not have the information and relationships needed to prove their relevance and need for water.

“Access to water will become a limiting factor for the growing industry on many fronts,” she says. What’s needed to improve industry practices, build credibility and have a seat at the table when water policy is being formed?”

Well, information, for starters.

Leave a Reply

More From Equipment...
Feature image The 2015 Perennial Plant Of The Year, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’

August 27, 2015

The Perennial Plant Association’s Regional Symposium Will Be This October In Dallas

The Perennial Plant Association plans to hold its Regional Symposium October 5 in Dallas, Texas, in conjunction with the All-America Selections/Home Garden Seed Association's Summer/Fall Summit held October 5 to 8.

Read More
september_grow_rodale institute

August 25, 2015

Hospitals Are Getting Into The Organic Food Business

Growers investing in the organic food movement could serve a growing new area with vegetable transplants and starts, as well as produce, as hospitals begin to prescribe healthy diets and nutrition, and even go so far as to grow their own food. As part of a new phenomenon among progressive hospitals, health professionals are beginning to realize that without health and nutrition, programs and techniques may be done in vain or worse — obsolete. As more patients seeking a healthy diet turn to nutritionists, who recommend sugar-free, alkaline diets to prevent disease and aid in recovery, hospitals recognizing this trend are taking action. St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem, Pa., recently contracted with the nearby Rodale Institute to manage an organic farm, established in 2014. The hospital, part of a six-campus network, aims to provide excellent healthcare, part of which includes educating patients about the benefits of a plant-based, organic diet. […]

Read More

August 21, 2015

Proven Winners Announces Roadshow Events For 2015

Proven Winner's Roadshow Events, held across North America, provide growers and retailers with the opportunity to learn how to grow Proven Winner's newest varieties and receive information about industry trends.

Read More
Latest Stories
Figure 1. Mustard microgreens grown under sole-source (SS) lighting using light-emitting diode (LED) arrays.

August 21, 2015

Sole-Source LED Lighting In Horticulture: Microgreens P…

In Part 2 of a four-part lighting series highlighting the multiple uses of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), researchers examine the effects of sole-source LED lighting on microgreen production to achieve the highest quality crop possible in an energy efficient manner.

Read More
Lighting 2015 August Feature Image

August 14, 2015

Customizing Crop Foliage Color With LEDs: Ornamental Cr…

Do you find that your purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) crop is often green to light purple? What if we told you there is a quick solution to enhance and darken the foliage of purple fountain grass or other floriculture crops? In this second article of a four-part series highlighting the multiple uses of high-intensity light-emitting diodes (LEDs), we will discuss our research methodology and findings for enhancing the foliage color of ornamental crops with end-of-production (EOP) supplemental lighting (SL) in the greenhouse. Many ornamental crops that greenhouse and nursery growers produce vary in size, shape and color. These variables are often influenced by the growing environment. For example, leaf color (intensity, distribution or both) of ornamental crops such as purple fountain grass is a key component that often influences the consumer’s perception and ultimately an impulse purchase. The red or purple pigmentation of purple fountain grass leaves is […]

Read More
WaterPulse retail mats can help cut water use in retail settings

August 10, 2015

Technology Provides Solutions For Growing In Drought

In April, California Gov. Jerry Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to institute reductions in cities and towns across the state with the goal of reducing water usage by 25 percent. The announcement comes following the lowest snowpack ever recorded in the High Sierra. It was the first time in state history that action was taken to implement mandatory water restrictions. In May, the farmers in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta agreed to reduce their water use by 25 percent in exchange for assurance that they will not face further curtailment during the June to September growing season. Their proposal was approved by the State Water Resources Control Board. Growers who participate in the program could opt to either reduce water diversions under their riparian rights by 25 percent, or fallow 25 percent of their land. Given these conditions, growers and retailers are in need of methods and […]

Read More
Heating Roundup Feature Image

August 1, 2015

5 New Heating Options For The Greenhouse

Five heating systems manufacturers share their latest and greatest products. Tubing And Aluminum Heat Pipes (BioTherm) From Megatube and MicroClimate tubing to DuoFin and StarFin aluminum heat pipe, BioTherm is dedicated to providing heat solutions that can withstand the toughest greenhouse environments. The MegaTube and MicroClimate tubing options are easy to install and ideal for bench or floor heating. The tubing has a conductive heating surface that allows for maximum root-zone heating. The DuoFin and StarFin aluminum pipe options are great for perimeter heating and melting snow trapped in the greenhouse gutter. It can also be useful for bench heating. Both pipe options provide gentle, radiant heat for plants and don’t require welding. TrueLeaf.net Infinite Energy 2 Condensing Boiler (Delta T Solutions) With up to 98 percent efficiency, the IE2 condensing boiler boasts a stainless steel heat exchanger with larger waterways to ensure maximum heat transfer. The product’s design ensures flexibility while […]

Read More
Heating Feature image

July 27, 2015

In Hot Pursuit Of Heating Trends For The Greenhouse

From biomass boilers to hydronic-heating systems, growers have a range of options to fit their operation’s unique needs. Here’s what five manufacturers had to say about the latest trends.

Read More
lighting feature

June 29, 2015

Customizing Crop Foliage Color With LEDs: Red Leaf Let…

In the first of a four-part series highlighting the multiple uses of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), researchers share how end-of-production supplemental lighting with LEDs enhances red leaf lettuce color prior to harvesting and shipping.

Read More

June 28, 2015

Keep Your Cool In The Greenhouse

Summer is in full swing, and that means growers need to worry about protecting plants and greenhouse employees from brutal temperatures. No sweat! These product manufacturers have offerings to help beat the heat.

Read More
Greenhouse Electrical System

June 23, 2015

Don’t Let Your Greenhouse Electrical System Come …

The size of a greenhouse operation is one of the biggest factors when determining the type of electrical system to install. Part 2 of "Don't Let Your Electrical System Come Up Short" covers locating electrical wires, meeting electrical load demands and environmental considerations.

Read More
Schaefer-fan

June 23, 2015

Schaefer Ventilation Opens Distribution Center In Atlan…

Schaefer Ventilation Equipment, a manufacturer of ventilation and thermal comfort products, has opened a new distribution center in Atlanta, Ga., to increase efficiency and provide faster services to dealers. Additionally, the company has added a new staff member to its agricultural and horticultural division to help expand markets in Latin America.

Read More
HID Lighting System

June 18, 2015

Talking Shop: Using Lighting To Boost Beneficials

Peace Tree Farm was looking for a way to maintain beneficial insect populations through the winter. It found a potential solution through the use of rotating HID lighting.

Read More

June 17, 2015

Costa Farms Reduces Greenhouse Emissions With Solar Pow…

Costa Farms is seeking to make sustainability a top priority at its headquarters and two other buildings in Miami with the recent construction of new solar panels, which will replace 25 percent of the company's power usage with solar energy.

Read More
aquatrols

June 3, 2015

Aquatrols Renews Cooperative Research And Development A…

Aquatrols Corporation recently announced a new Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Dr. Matt Madsen and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. The objective of the new CRADA is to further refine and evaluate surfactant seed coating technologies for use in wildfire rehabilitation, turf and pasture grasses, restoration species and other horticultural and agricultural systems. The three-year agreement renews a CRADA that Aquatrols first signed with the ARS in 2012. The original partnership has resulted in promising field and greenhouse trials, pending patents and initial steps toward commercialization of the surfactant seed coating technology. “We are very encouraged by the work that Dr. Madsen and his team have put together over the past three years,” says Aquatrols’ President and CEO Tracy Jarman. “This innovative technology has shown incredible potential with wide-ranging impacts in multiple industries. Aquatrols’ stated mission is to change the way the world grows and this technology has the […]

Read More
Growers are looking for low-cost options for temperature control, like circulating fans and exhaust fans.

April 10, 2015

New Ways To Give Growers Control Of The Greenhouse Envi…

From heating systems to circulation fans, manufacturing companies are finding new ways to help growers control the greenhouse environment, save on energy costs and streamline production.

Read More
Polyarch Berns

March 12, 2015

The Energy Efficient Greenhouse

New coverings technology means today’s films, plastics, shade cloths and climate screens slash heating and cooling costs while improving crop productivity year round. We checked with manufacturers to see what’s new and uncovered some best practices for buttoning up your greenhouse. Here’s what you need to know about the latest trends.

Read More
FormFlex_MTZ Hanging Basket

March 11, 2015

4 New Ways To Automate Your Operation

These new automation products can help streamline labor-intensive tasks, saving time and labor and increasing productivity.

Read More
Outfitting Your Greenhouse

February 24, 2015

Save Energy With The Right Greenhouse Glazing

The glazing you choose can make a big difference in your energy bill and the uniformity of your crops.

Read More
Michigan State University Extension

February 24, 2015

Ethylene From Defective Greenhouse Heaters Damages Crop…

Malfunctioning greenhouse heaters can lead to crop damage from ethylene and carbon monoxide induced illness for workers. Michigan State University's Extension educators Tom Dudek and Randy Beaudry teach you how to recognize the symptoms and check greenhouse heaters to avoid the concern.

Read More
Havest Automation Robot

February 18, 2015

Robots Grab Hold Of Growers’ Material Handling Needs

Harvest Automation’s HV-100 robots automate one of the hardest, most labor-intensive jobs at growing operations – plant spacing. With more technology coming, investing in robots could become even more realistic for growers of all sizes.

Read More