As drastic climate change increases the scarcity and cost of water, efficient vineyard irrigation scheduling is quickly becoming a key component of vineyard management. Also, the need for efficiency is now a fundamental aspect of any vineyard irrigation system due to the growing frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts, bushfires, fluctuating rainfall, and extreme heat.
Viticulturists need to incorporate vineyard irrigation scheduling that optimizes fruit quality, yield, and profitability using the minimum water available. In addition, modern irrigation systems must minimize over and under-watering, thereby mitigating vine stress and excessive vigor. However, this can only be achieved through effective irrigation scheduling.
What is Vineyard Irrigation Scheduling?
Irrigation scheduling is the process of determining how and when water will be applied to a field. As discussed above, water is not only scarce but costly. Therefore, farmers must develop a scheduling approach that maximizes every drop while cutting costs and energy.
Irrigation scheduling should also help apply the exact amount of water needed to replenish soil moisture. In this case, accuracy is a fundamental requirement as it provides the actual volume of water required by a plant.
Unfortunately, not all vineyard irrigation scheduling approaches have proved effective. Some methods don’t provide accurate and actionable signals that can help maximize the water available. However, getting the best vineyard irrigation scheduling is priceless when irrigation is the sole determinant of vineyard profitability.
What are the Best Practices for Vineyard Irrigation Scheduling?
For efficient vineyard irrigation scheduling, watering should be done when needed the most. This is the only way a vineyard farmer will make the most of the water available. Importantly, irrigation scheduling can be managed depending on the available irrigation system and prevailing weather conditions.
Before purchasing irrigation systems and turning them on in your vineyard, some appropriate irrigation scheduling techniques can help schedule your vineyard irrigation.
1. Soil Moisture Level Technique
The soil moisture scheduling technique focuses on measuring the amount of water in the soil, which areas have sufficient water, and how the vine takes up that water. In this approach, the soil moisture sensors play an influential role in determining how winter rain affects soil profile.
Multiple soil moisture sensors are needed in various soil blocks and types to reflect the land’s topography for the best outcome. Therefore, vineyard operators should place moisture soil sensors in parts of the land representative of the entire vineyard.
To identify representative areas, you need to map the land with the assistance of a professional agriculture soils expert. This will help understand the vineyard water use per acre per year.
Some of the standard soil moisture sensors include; capacitance measurements, time-domain transmissometers, and time domain reflectometry. Unfortunately, there’s no soil moisture measuring sensor effective for all soil types. Therefore, you need to conduct detailed research to find the best fit.
2. Water Balance Technique
The water balance technique is a comprehensive irrigation scheduling approach that involves analyzing meteorological data in conjunction with other variables such as plant type, soil type, and moisture content.
Water balance scheduling is an effective technique that helps measure the amount of water in the soil through irrigation and rainfall. It also analyzes water taken from the soil through evaporation and absorption to develop a balance that keeps vines healthy.
As you can see, the water balance technique has some complex calculations. However, it is an accurate scheduling approach to help farmers predict irrigation needs based on natural rainfall and evaporation.
3. Plant Monitoring Technique
You can also predict irrigation needs on your farm by monitoring the vines themselves. Naturally, plants go through multiple changes forced by available conditions such as temperature, humidity, and soil moisture throughout the day.
The plant monitoring technique uses various devices such as infrared thermometers, dendrometers, pressure bomb monitors, and turgor pressure sensors. These devices assist farmers in tracking irrigation needs directly from the plant.
In this irrigation scheduling technique, irrigation can only be scheduled when plants reach particular lows. It helps remove the guesswork in irrigation scheduling while ensuring that watering is only done when needed.
4. Computer Model Technique
Currently, irrigation has become a technical and complex aspect, which means that farm managers are now using computer models to determine when plants need moisture. Computer models are developed based on known factors such as soil makeup and weather conditions.
Computer models have been developed through historical data. They might probably help determine when and how watering should be done, but they’re not the most accurate systems for irrigation scheduling. Nevertheless, these models are essential when managing large vineyard plantations with different soil types and topography.
Another benefit of computer irrigation scheduling is that they’re effective in watering, fertilizer application, and pesticide application.
Closing the Loop With an Automated Irrigation System
The four best practices for irrigation scheduling discussed above only help you determine when your plants need water. The other half of the equation is being able to deliver the correct volume of water, at the right time. This is where an automated irrigation system helps.
An automated system provides efficiency through its scheduling capabilities. Growers can easily coordinate schedules for various blocks, sub-blocks, or rows within their vineyard (or across multiple vineyards), based on the data collected from the previously mentioned techniques. This will give you a formidable approach to your irrigation scheduling practices.
Other additional benefits of an automated or smart irrigation system include:
- Timely irrigation
- Proper utilization of scarce water
- Reduced runoff water
- Accurate watering as compared to manual systems
- Automatic irrigation reduces weed growth
- Automatic irrigation conserves soil structure
- It helps protect soil nutrients
Select The Right Vineyard Irrigation Scheduling Method for Economical Irrigation
To get optimum yields with minimal water wastage, you need to develop an appropriate irrigation scheduling approach that accurately assesses moisture in the soil. The systems you’ll select must conserve water, save on irrigation expenses, and promote maximum yields.