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Irrigation scheduling of almond trees with trunk diameter sensors

AuthorsGoldhamer, D. A.; Fereres Castiel, Elías CSIC
Issue DateApr-2004
CitationIrrig Sci (2004) 23: 11–19
AbstractThe use of plant indicators may be the ideal method for irrigation scheduling but it is hampered by the dynamic nature of plant water status and by the lack of suitable indicators, relative to established scheduling methods based on atmospheric and soil observations. A study was conducted in an almond orchard located in the San Joaquin Valley of California during the 2001 season using trunk diameter variations as the only indicator for determining the amount of irrigation. The ratio of the maximum daily shrinkage (MDS) of tree trunks relative to a reference MDS, calculated from a relationship between MDS of fully irrigated trees and atmospheric vapor pressure deficit, was used as a signal for modifying the amount of applied irrigation water. Applied water was increased by 10% each time the MDS signal exceeded the prescribed threshold. When the MDS signal went below the threshold, applied water was reduced by 10% in an interactive manner. Two schedules were tested with signal thresholds of 1.75 and 2.75, which generated mild and moderate water stress, respectively, as indicated by their stem water potential (SWP) values. The two irrigation treatments had SWP that varied over the season from around )0.7 to )1.1 MPa and )0.8 to )1.7 MPa, respectively. The two schedules resulted in seasonal water applications of 860 mm for the 1.75 and 525 mm for the 2.75 signal threshold treatments. The grower/cooperator, who based his schedule primarily on SWP measurements but also considered the water balance, applied 900 mm. Estimated crop evapotranspiration was 1,030 mm. The mean coefficients of variation for the two irrigation treatments during the monitoring period were 0.115 and 0.031 for the MDS and SWP measurements, respectively. The stress produced by the irrigation treatments hastened fruit maturation, as evidenced by accelerated hull splitting. This resulted in lower fruit hydration just prior to harvest; 17.3% and 8.0% for the two irrigation schedules, respectively, compared with 27.3% for the grower/cooperator. Based on harvesting selected trees with the same nut load, fresh and dry nut weights in the 2.75 threshold treatment were 9.0% and 10.7% less than those of the 1.75 threshold, which were not significantly different from the results for the grower cooperator. Our results demonstrate that it is feasible to develop an irrigation schedule for almond trees based solely on MDS signals, which may be tailored to any desired stress pattern and be operated in full automation with appropriate software development.
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