(originally published March 2017)

This month’s Ag Tech topic came about because a reader wrote us with a request for information.  He wanted to know about the use of dendrometrics in water conservation. We’re very glad he asked, as it sent us down a road that has been very interesting. What’s more important is, we found a new water and nutrient monitoring method that could save growers money.

With recently developed electronic measuring techniques, a high-tech equivalent of the old-fashioned dendrometer is becoming an important tool for hi-tech tree and vine growers. It’s helping them deliver water and nutrients only when the plant needs them.  This can provide a potential savings in water and fertilizers. It is a demand-based water and nutrient management system based upon careful measuring of plant fluids.

Dendrometers have been used to evaluate the health of orchards and forests for years. They are metal bands that encircle the tree’s trunk and measure changes in the circumference. These changes happen not only when the tree grows; water flowing from the roots to the branches will also cause the trunk to swell. This measurement can help an astute grower determine peak water demand.  It will tell him whether that demand is being met, before the tree suffers from dehydration. 

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(originally published February 2017)

Last month, we started a discussion of phone-based apps, and went over several that are of interest to agriculture.  We received some emails in response, and felt we needed to go a little further with explaining Apps and how they work.

Apps are software programs written for phones and tables.  They come in different flavors and sizes, but the ones created for your phone work in one of two ways:  They are native and reside on your device, or they are web based and live on the internet.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each.  Depending on your situation, the disadvantages could make the App difficult to use, so it is important to understand the differences.

The native apps are the kind you find in Google play, the Window or Apple App store, or on a provider’s website that you download to your phone or tablet.  They are written in code that is specific to the operating system on your device.  Apple Apps only work on Apple devices; they won’t run on Android or Windows devices.  And vice-versa, your Android or Window App won’t run on an Apple phone.

This is a problem for App developers, as they have to create multiple versions of the same App in different programming languages to work on multiple devices.   In spite of that difficulty, which increases the cost of developing an App, most experts prefer native Apps.  Native Apps typically work better, faster, and are safer.  Plus, they don’t require constant access to the internet.


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(originally published January 2017)

Following the 2016 pistachio harvest that saw the worst navel orange worm damage in the past four years, growers and pest control advisors are looking at management options to control the pest.

Use of pheromone traps to make decisions on NOW control is becoming an integral part in the pest management program for pistachio and almonds, but questions remain on how to use as a monitoring tool, on new lure development and on how mating disruption impacts trapping programs.

Joel Siegel, USDA-ARS researcher at the San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center, confirmed at the South Valley Nut Conference that NOW damage in pistachios reached levels not seen since 2013- even though population levels were very low at the beginning of the season. There was a similar situation in 2006 when rainy, cold weather lowered overwintering populations but the 2007 crop was blasted with NOW damage. The totals for this year damage: Kern—1.36; Kings - 2.05; Madera—1.60 and Tulare—1.54 were much higher than last year, Siegel noted.    

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With potential energy savings in the agricultural sector approaching $1 billion annually, it is understandable that California nut growers would be seeking their fair share.

According to American Council for Energy Efficiency, that $1 billion figure is an extremely conservative estimate with the largest potential savings percentage found in the motor system—specifically irrigation pumping.

Both of the major utility companies serving California farmers continue to offer a number of energy efficiency programs and incentives designed to help save energy costs or provide credits. In addition, USDA Rural Development offers grants for up to 25 percent of the cost of energy efficiency projects. These USDA grants are competitive and producers must have an energy audit by a certified auditor prior to applying.

One of the Central Valley nut growing families—the Pitigliano family of Pixley,  farms almonds and pistachios in the region served by Southern California Edison and estimates that 90 percent of their energy expenditure is incurred pumping irrigation water.