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New irrigation decision support tool released for pears

Research & Extension

Growers now have access to an irrigation decision support tool to assist in water budgeting and scheduling of irrigation in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley.

Agriculture Victoria’s (AgVic) pear research team, based at the Tatura SmartFarm, has been developing the tool as part of the PIPS3 Program project Developing smarter and sustainable pear orchards to maximise fruit quality, yield and labour efficiency (AP190005), though back-end data and calculations of the tool draw upon years of research and trial data.

“Scheduling irrigation with more accuracy has multiple benefits for growers,” says AgVic research scientist, Dr Lexie McClymont. “Ensuring trees are not water stressed will improve yield and fruit quality, as well as increase the water use efficiency of the business across a season. Trees will perform better if irrigation is responsive to changes in weather conditions, tree growth stage and size, and factors within each block such as the understorey, soil type and soil wetting patterns.”

The new tool is an easily downloadable Excel Workbook, supported by a half hour instructional video, available now from the Horticulture Industry Networks website, extensionAUS website and also available through the PIPS3 Program APAL webpage.

The tool is user-friendly, providing pre-filled data based upon regional averages, but becomes more accurate for specific scenarios when growers override figures with their own location, orchard or block specific data.

“The video guides the user in use of the tool, but importantly it explains what data is needed and what influence this has on determining a more accurate water budget and irrigation schedule,” says Dr McClymont. “We believe that growers will have greater confidence in the tool if they understand the data inputs and the sources used to derive the data.”

The tool determines a monthly water budget and irrigation plan so that growers can respond to changes in evapotranspiration (ET) and rainfall. Orchard water use is calculated for specific orchards by considering the long-term ET for a reference crop (sourced from the nearest Bureau of Meteorology weather station) and adjusting for effective area of shade (EAS), a primary driver of tree water use, and understorey conditions.

“EAS is an important input for calculating the irrigation requirement of an orchard. It is a measure of the transpiring leaf area of the trees. The video gives directions on how to estimate EAS and the tools that we are developing to better determine EAS,” says Dr McClymont.

In addition to calculating how much water is evaporated and transpired to the atmosphere, the budget considers how much water is stored in the root zone. The tool provides a typical estimate of stored readily available soil moisture in pear orchards at the start of the season, but this can be modified by the user. The budgeting tool is ideal for investigating irrigation options under different scenarios , such as converting from microjet to drip irrigation, or the benefits of deficit irrigation strategies. It also provides a calculation of irrigation intervals during the season for user-defined run times, emitter rates and emitter spacing.

For further information, you can contact Dr Lexie McClymont (Mon, Tues, Wed).

Watch Dr Ian Goodwin’s recent update on the AP19005 project.

For further updates, visit the AP19005 project page.

The PIPS3 Program’s Developing smarter and sustainable pear orchards to maximise fruit quality, yield and labour efficiency (AP19005) project has been funded by Hort Innovation, using the apple and pear research and development levy, contributions from the Australian Government and co-investment from Agriculture Victoria. Hort Innovation is the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australian horticulture.

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