As worsening climate change and unpredictable weather patterns become a bigger reality for growers, none are more drastically affected than the growers who depend on water the most. Somewhere towards the top of this list are viticulturists and vintners: the growers of the world’s grapes and the labor behind many of the world’s most renowned wines and vintages, though they are by far not the only agricultural professionals who need to think about how they can resist water shortages.
Effects of water shortage in agriculture is becoming a very real and even expected thing. Just this spring in 2022, California viticulturists and other growers were allocated zero water resources for the year in the Central Valley. This doesn’t mean the end of food or vine production— it means that growers need to adapt and innovate in powerful ways to combat the impact of water shortage on the economy and the environment. From simple best practices to more advanced technology, here are some of the leading ways can help your vineyard resist water shortages.
1. Drip irrigation systems
With this proven and widely adopted watering technique, growers of all kinds (including viticulturists) can resist water shortages by using a drip irrigation system. The two types of drip irrigation systems are surface and subsurface.
Surface systems use tubbing with embedded drip emitters to apply water directly to the soil surface above the plant. Surface drip systems are more common for vineyards. Subsurface systems use a drip tape that runs below the ground to allow water to seep directly into the soil, right at plants’ roots.
Drip irrigation systems help prevent water loss (thus cutting down on water use) while optimizing water usage for the plants themselves by targeting the roots of plants and reducing water runoff.
2. Water filtration systems
Properly filtrated water is critical for any irrigation system. It helps by cutting down on heavy mineral, bacterial, algal, and other deposits that could block or depressurize your irrigation system, resulting in lack of water efficiency and even water loss— that is, if these blocks or clogs eventually turn into costly leaks.
Filtering requirements depend on what type of irrigation system you’re using. Mesh number is used to define how tightly woven the screen is, and a larger mesh number correlates to finer filtration.
For rotors and sprinkler spray nozzles, the minimum filtration needed is 80 mesh. For drip emitters, sprayers and spray jets, the minimum filtration needed is 120 mesh. And for drip tape, the minimum filtration needed is 155 mesh.
3. Plastic and natural mulches
Implementing mulches— whether fabric, heavy-duty plastic, or natural and biodegradable materials— in combination with other approaches provides another way to resist water shortages. Seasoned growers eagerly report how much water savings they experience especially when running drip irrigation systems (drip tape) underneath mulches. This protection and shading further reduces water loss due to evaporation, especially in dry or arid climates like those in California. It also keeps moisture in place, optimizing water usage on the part of your plants as well, cutting down on water usage, costs, and while raising profits.
4. Soil sample data
With soil sample data, you can not only measure the nutrient levels, you can also get a read on how much organic matter there is in your soil from area to area— and thus gauge how much water retention and drought resistance your soil is capable of.
This data can also tell you which soil areas need more work and irrigation to properly tend crops, and which areas are drought resistant and water-retaining enough that you don’t need to irrigate them as often. All of this is possible with thorough soil testing, to provide you with different irrigation rates and flows to various areas depending on the soil profile.
5. Evapotranspiration(ET) Data
While it may sound like an advanced or fancy concept, farmers for ages have been aware of evapotranspiration— an enormous aspect of water management and loss— and developing technologies to compensate for it or combat it. “Evapotranspiration” is the concept of water loss either from the top of the soil, or directly from the plants themselves (through their own form of “sweating”) either through temperature, humidity, sun exposure, wind, or other natural factors.
Elements like these play a role in how much water you should use and how much you should save with crops. With the help of ET Data you can further fine-tune and dial in exactly how much water you should use for irrigation— and avoid using too much, especially if you are operating within very tight water shortage parameters.
6. Enhancing organic matter in soil
Using organic, sustainable, or regenerative methods for building more organic matter and carbon into the soil can be incredibly effective for helping resist water shortages. In fact, sources show that higher organic matter in soils makes them incredibly drought resistant, and able to both withstand and provide plants with hydration through periods of severe lack of rainfall or dryness. ATTRA states that per every 1% of organic matter restored to the soil, you can increase your soil’s water retention capabilities up to 16,000 gallons of water per acre! This shows that the adoption of organic materials into the soil, and building soil life, can be a worthwhile investment in the long run.
7. Utilizing cover crops
Cover cropping is one of the best ways for adding organic matter back into the soil, and it can be utilized in vineyards just as well as farms to resist water shortages. The only drawback: growers need to terminate cover crops at the right time, as they can sap more water for their growth if they are not terminated and approached correctly.
8. Investing in Smart Irrigation Technology
Smart irrigation systems allow growers to automate their irrigation scheduling and water usage reporting. They work by using remote controlled valves with built-in flower meters and modern software to control the operation of the valves.
In addition to significantly reducing labor costs normally associated with manually operating valves, they also help resist water shortages by giving growers precise control over where and when water is used.
The built-in flow meters provide growers with increased visibility, meaning they can instantly see how much water is being used across various blocks, removing any guesswork.
Preparing for the future
Times of water scarcity in the world lie ahead for many vintners and viticulturists, which means it’s essential to do everything you can to prepare for the climate change challenges ahead. By investing in the right systems, growers can use less water for irrigation while still achieving optimal plant growth and yield.