Room for improvement

Editor’s note: Australian growers, who toured the Salinas Valley in California recently, shared their observations of irrigation and other management methods in fruit and vegetable production during a telephone interview after returning home.

A group of vegetable growers from different regions of Australia toured California’s Salinas Valley recently and saw how vegetable farmers did everything from irrigation to harvest. Some of their findings surprised them.

Much of Australia has experienced drought for the last eight to 10 years. Some growers in the tour were experiencing severe drought, while others were only having moderate problems. All were surprised to see only a few automated irrigation systems on California vegetable farms.

Steve Skopilianos, owner of Ladybird Organics in Victoria, Australia, has made two trips to California. On his first visit in 2006, he was shocked to see the irrigation systems. “Here in Australia, most of our irrigation systems are fully automated,” he said. “We’re watering large tracts of lands with either fixed solid-set irrigation and/or moving traveling irrigators. And we saw none of that in California. What we saw were systems that were employed here in Australia, I suppose, in the ’50s and ’60s.”

Key Points

• Australian growers tour California vegetable farms to compare practices.

• Visitors are surprised by state’s lack of automated irrigation systems.

• Irrigation is done mainly at night in Australia to reduce evaporation.

Laying down the drip

Drip tape has been used in Australia for about 10 years, Skopilianos said. “We probably are par [with California] in regards to drip tape,” he said.

Joe Castro, of Castro Farms in West Australia, said, “We’re in the sandier country over here, and we use just fixed irrigation — overhead irrigation.”

Growers are trying drip tape in Castro’s area. “I don’t think it would work. I think it would be too big a job putting it in and taking it out,” he said.

Castro also uses irrigation for dust suppression because he has sandy soils and wind. His irrigation system is set to run 10 to 11 times per day at 10-minute intervals to reduce the dust. This makes drip tape less feasible for him.

Another difference between the farming regions is that irrigation is mainly done at night in Australia to reduce evaporation. “We noticed a lot of irrigation going on during the daytime [in California] as we were traveling around,” Skopilianos said.

Skopilianos’ farm uses a fully automated irrigation system. “We program up to two weeks in advance,” he said. “It just does everything by itself. Farmers are controlling their irrigation systems from their cell phone.”

Coatney writes from Corning, Calif.


RIDING TECH CURVE: Australians Steve Skopilianos (left), owner of Ladybird Organics in Victoria, and Brent Story (in striped shirt at right), farm manager of Story Fresh in Queensland, toured California vegetable farms recently. They say Australian growers are ahead in automation from what they saw in the state.

This article published in the January, 2010 edition of IRRIGATION EXTRA.

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