University of California at Davis graduate student Felipe Barrios-Masias and Professor Louise Jackson saw promise in alternative irrigation methods that could use less water but still produce high yields, leading to increased agricultural sustainability and efficiency. Until successfully obtaining Western SARE funds, they were finding it difficult to receive funding for the on-farm research. However, in 2010 Barrios-Masias received $25,000 from the Western SARE Graduate Student Research and Education program for Irrigation Alternatives for Sustainable Water Use of Processing Tomatoes.
Barrios-Masias and Jackson say that due to the potential shown by the research results and the data collected, they were able to leverage the funds in the form of a specialty crop grant and expand to do more research.
Agricultural water consumption in California is at least 75% of the water supply. To improve crop water economy, this project looked at using the partial root drying (PRD) technique to reduce the amount of water supplied and increase crop water use efficiency (yield/water applied) on tomatoes. The trials evaluated yield and cultivar response to alternate furrow irrigation (one furrow of a bed received water at each irrigation to every furrow irrigation).
Campbell Research and Development was a project collaborator and they, along with and the Jackson Lab at UCD, assisted Barrios-Masias in outreach to growers. Field trials were held at the Campbell Research and Development Station and also on four farms in adjacent fields with three different field types. Barrios-Masias states that Campbell’s was a good collaborator by introducing him to the growers, supporting sustainability and showing interest in reducing water use, making it a great first experience for him in working with industry.
Barrios-Masias and Jackson were pleased with the results, with Barrios-Masias claiming he was surprised by how much reduction in water use they saw. The solid repeated data demonstrated that higher water use efficiency is possible with irrigation reductions of at least 25% in on-farm trials, with no affect on yields and fruit quality. This reduction could help keep ag land in production, especially in drought years.
Some tomato growers were previously using the irrigation technique to manage disease. Barrios-Masias has presented the results from his project at tomato growers meetings to good reception. Area farm advisors know about the results as well. Currently most growers do not think they have to implement the practice in regard to water use. However, during future drought, with the new data they will have a choice; they can plant less area or reduce their water use.
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