California irrigation specialist urges Yakima Valley farmers to review water principles

YAKIMA - Making more efficient use of technology was the theme of a lecture hosted by the Yakima Pomological Club Wednesday evening.

Making use of water sensors, crop yield records and the science of water evaporation was the main topics of lecture speaker Dr. Charles Burt of the Irrigation Training and Research Center of Cal Poly State University.

Burt shared his expertise with a roomful of Yakima Valley orchardists, who gathered at the Washington State University's Deccio Building on the Yakima campus of Yakima Valley Community College.

Talking about the on-farm irrigation systems and efficiency techniques from thousands of miles away in San Luis Obispo, Calif., Burt encouraged the farmers to take what they already know about the principles of water and apply those principles to their farming practices in order to survive this year's drought conditions.

"You know you won't have a lot of water this year, but you can maximize the water if you apply it in the most efficient manner," Burt said.

Burt urged the farmers to make use of ground cover to help reduce heat in the orchards, which adds to water evaporation. "Use reflective materials, such as whitewash, to further reduce heat around the trees," he added.

But even more important than these simple methods, Burt urged farmers to know when they are over- or under-irrigating their fields.

By not applying the science of water penetration in the Yakima Valley soil, coupled with the types of permanent crops the farmers are growing, Burt warned that they may be inadvertently wasting water. "You have to know the saturation level in your fields," he said. He said the saturation levels may vary from one end of the field to the other. "It is important to know the water penetration levels are applied evenly across the field," he cautioned.

"Use water sensors. There are plenty of good ones on the market," he said.

He said this is a good year to make trials of drought conditions and the resulting stress on plants. "What we do know is that with the careful application of water, we may only see a 10 percent loss due to drought conditions," he said.

Burt cautioned farmers to be vigilant about routine tasks such as flushing hoses, removing hose screen washers and replacing them with regular washers. He also warned the farmers to keep their water emitters clean and free of bacteria.

"And of course make sure you keep a steady supply of nutrients going to the roots of your plants," he said.

Burt urged the Yakima Pomological Society members to visit the Cal Poly irrigation research center website at for more information regarding drought irrigation options.


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