Implementing Irrigation Automation and Soil Moisture Monitoring to Increase Yield and Reduce Labor
Location: Temecula, California
Crop Grown: 40 acres of Avocado
Solutions: Valve control, pump control, soil moisture monitoring, weather and climate,remote cameras
“Ranch System’s RanchMaster provides the precise control I need to optimally irrigate each block. The system has also reduced my irrigation labor force from four people to one.”
Oleg Uvarov, Owner
Oleg Uvarov purchased his 40 acre avocado grove in 2012. A recent immigrant from the Ukraine, he sought to apply his many years of experience improving production of row crops like corn and soy beans to growing avocados. The grove at the time of purchase was in poor health. His mission was to turn it around and achieve its full potential in terms of quality and yield. Oleg wanted to be a hands-on grower and use his farm management service more for agronomic advice than operations. At the same time, he did want to be tied to the grove, but be able to monitor and control it remotely from his home two hours away.
Oleg discerned that the grove was suffering due to inconsistent and imprecise irrigation. There was no real way to know how long a valve was opened or whether it was opened at all. A worker may lose track of time and forget to close a valve according to schedule or miss a block altogether. Moreover, there was no way to measure the actual volume of each irrigation set, how deep the water was percolating into the root zone and the actual root uptake. The grove consisted of 500 trees that were 25 years old, 500 that were 20 years old, 1,500 that were 7 ½ years old and 2,500 newly planted saplings. Each of these groups had unique and exact watering requirements. For example, overwatering the saplings would result in their death. Oleg’s solution to the problem was to fully automate irrigation on a block-by-block basis.
RanchMaster Wireless Solution
First, a VFD (variable frequency drive) pump, sand separator flush valve, flow meter and DC latching solenoid valves were installed. Ranch Systems RS300 nodes were deployed to remotely control the pump and valves, and measure water flow. Then, nodes with 32” Aquacheck capacitance soil probes were installed in each block to view the water profile in real-time. The base station (unit that communicates with the Ranch Systems on-line server) was equipped with weather sensors and camera. Oleg was now able to automatically schedule irrigation, know exactly how much water was being delivered and observe the moisture levels in the soil to adjust his irrigation scheme. In addition, he could view and analyze weather data as well as observe the orchard remotely. In the summer of 2014, Oleg expanded the system to automate the new blocks where he planted the 2,500 saplings.
Right away Oleg was able to reduce his labor from four hands to a single farm worker. In addition, he was freed from being at the grove every day and now spends just two days a week on-site. In the first year the health of the trees was markedly improved. As a new owner, he has no data on past harvests, so improvements in quality, size and yield could not be quantified. However, Oleg anticipates the grove to continue to produce more and now has a baseline to document the gains.