Traver, CA, November 15: As the world’s leading grower of peaches, plums, and nectarines, Prima® Wawona has long had a reputation for efficiency and innovation. Over the last 18 months, this has been taken to a new level using an advanced technology to optimize water use while dealing sustainably with salinity issues.
With water never far from the news in California, there is a pressing need for agriculture to improve efficiencies. For a large operation like Prima®, this would have a huge wider impact and send a positive message to others. At the same time, with some Prima® sites suffering from salinity and chloride issues, Ranch Managers have long been searching for a solution to help recover soil health. As focus on sustainability increases in the ag sector, doing this sustainably would also be a big plus.
This search led Prima® to AQUA4D®, a precision water treatment tech which transforms irrigation water and can help both save on inputs and regenerate soils. “Efficient use of our inputs continues to be one of our top priorities. We are constantly looking at approaching problems from all angles,” says Nick Boos, Chief Agricultural Officer. “We discovered AQUA4D and immediately put it to the test on one of our more challenging fields. We had experienced a number of fertility issues along with visible chlorosis and water penetration problems.”
In doing so, Prima became the first grower to use this technology on stone fruits. But with a track record in treating crops across the world there was legitimate hope that this technology could help the significant challenges at the site in Traver. Recent studies at University of California (Lindcove) proved AQUA4D’s potential to increase water penetration, and successes at Central Valley pistachio and almond orchards showed its ability to sustainably manage salinity.
Greater water penetration enables savings
The ranch where AQUA4D® was installed in early 2022 had some of the very worst water infiltration issues, explains Ranch Manager Matt Acosta. “Generally I want water that goes down to feed the tree, rather than running off and evaporating,” he explains. “Before, using a hand probe, the ground would be hard as a rock.” In the last year or so, this has changed beyond recognition: “It’s a night and day difference, I can now easily probe one-handed and see that the water is penetrating past that 3-foot mark.”
By keeping a close eye on changes in the soil – with first-hand observation, as well as sensors from AquaSpy and Hemav – this has led to significant changes in irrigation practice, enabling some stunning water savings. “We figure we’re saving about 25% water right now, based on what we’re doing, adds Acosta. “Now I only have to irrigate once every 10-12 days or so instead of every 7 days. For a block this size and a tree this size, imagine only putting on three irrigations in a month!”
Less salinity, healthier trees
The benefits of AQUA4D® seem to have even gone beyond these sizable water savings. With the trees previously suffering from excess chlorides and sodium, solving this issue was imperative to help the trees survive and regenerate the soils.
To track the changes to the soil and trees, the ranch was monitored closely, including sensors from Semios and satellite imaging from Hemav. The sensor data shows a significant decrease in EC concentration over time, an indication of decreasing salinity. And satellite tracking shows a marked uptick in tree health and vigor – something which can be easily observed with the naked eye, confirms Matt Acosta: “The trees haven’t looked this green in I don’t know how long. We were dealing high salt content, chlorides, and bicarbonate issues, and this technology has helped us clean everything from the water and soil without having to use chemicals.”
A sustainable process
Having made frequent visits, AQUA4D’s Dan Borboa knows all too well how much things have changed. “It thrills me to see the difference from a year to now,” he says. “It’s a field that was partly dead and it’s just been rejuvenated. I believe more and more Californian growers are ready for an innovative technology which can help them save inputs and regenerate soils.”
For Prima Wawona’s Nick Boos, the results have surpassed expectations and lead the company towards an even more sustainable operation: “We have been very impressed with the improvements post-AQUA4D implementation. We have seen visible and measurable differences in nutrient uptake and water usage. There is little question that AQUA4D has put us one step closer towards our goal of raising the most sustainably grown stone fruit possible.”
Now Ranch Manager Matt Acosta is looking at further pushing the limits of what this technology can do, including further pushing out irrigation intervals to 14 days over time with continued close monitoring and probing. “It’s been a sustainable process taking place here the last 18 months,” Acosta concludes. We need to be as efficient as possible, and now we’re taking it to the next step in effectively using the water and resources that we have.”
Family Farming Legacies bringing together over a century and a half of expertise and passion from two of the stone fruit industry’s leading family farms, Prima Wawona is committed to advancing strong retail partnerships and supporting the success of our supply chain partners, workforce and communities.
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