Choosing the right irrigation system for a block of almonds is not easy. It’s one of the more complicated, multi-faceted problems a grower faces, and to say there’s a lot riding on the decision is putting it mildly. It represents a significant investment; the future success of the orchard is dependent in large part on your decision. As veteran growers say, as a practical matter you only get one crack at planting an almond orchard, so you’d better do it right.
Who better then to ask for advice on irrigation than one of those veteran growers? Bob Weimer has been growing almonds – as well as peaches, sweet potatoes and walnuts – since before the widespread use of the modern drip and the micro-sprinkler systems in the late 1970s. Weimer, who farms in Atwater, CA, in the heart of the fertile San Joaquin Valley, advises young growers to look around. “You’ll see differences in certain areas. So look to the successful growers in your area, and see what they’re doing,” he says. “There’s lots of variation in almonds throughout the state.”
For example, while Weimer prefers drip irrigation because he believes it affords him the greatest control, you’ll see plenty of successful growers in Northern California using micro-sprinklers, because in colder regions they can be a lifesaver for frost protection. Successful growers can provide a lot of answers to complex irrigation questions, so study their techniques. “Why reinvent the wheel? You can make modifications or changes,” he says, “but you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”
Don't Stint On Quality
Once you’ve decided on a system, you have to decide where to source the equipment. Weimer says there a lot of good manufacturers, but he often gets his irrigation products from John Deere Water, mainly based on the old theory, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? “We’ve used a lot of products that John Deere Water has acquired, like Roberts (Irrigation) and Plastro (Irrigation Systems,) so we just continued on with it,” he says. “I’ve used John Deere Water products and I’ve had good results—that’s why I continue to use them.”
Weimer doesn’t cut corners on irrigation equipment because the most important lesson he’s learned through the years is that he has to be able to depend on his irrigation system absolutely.
“One thing we’ve found is you really can’t cheat on the amount of water you need to apply. You need to make sure there’s a cushion in your system so you can catch up if you get behind,” he says. “If the water profile gets way too low, you want to make sure your system can allow you to catch up.”
Reliability, then, is critical. That means a grower has to make sure that should he have any type of problem with his system, he can call for help. That’s another reason Weimer does a lot of business with John Deere Water. “The service has been good—like the product, very good. And the delivery times are very reliable, it’s been no issue,” he says. “They back up their products very well, as do some of the other companies we’ve worked with.”
White Is Just Right
Weimer also likes dealing with John Deere Water because they make a tremendous investment in R&D. The latest of the newer developments he has tried is white drip tubing, which his John Deere Water rep first showed him a couple of years ago. Weimer installed it when he planted his latest block of almonds, and so far, so great – the young block is really taking off.
White tubing should deflect heat more than the traditional black tubing, and being cooler it should slow the growth of algae which can clog emitters. “Also it appears we don’t get quite the expansion and retraction we get with the black tube,” he says. “When you put tube out that expands and contracts, the emitters begin to move around; one emitter can end up having no value whatsoever because it ends up so far from the tree.”
Weimer also appreciated the fact that though it is white, the tube has integrated construction. “It’s put together all at same time. It’s not like the white layer is added later,” he says. “We absolutely didn’t want double-walled tape or tubing. Other companies have come out with double-walled tubes for transfer lines, and we’ve found you can get separation. I was concerned that might be the case here, but no, you’re dealing with one solid wall.”