How customised irrigation systems add value and improve crop yields

How customised irrigation systems add value and improve crop yields

“Every irrigation or fertigation system needs to be designed for a set of specific circumstances – there is no such thing as an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution,” says Cherry Irrigation director Charles Cherry. “More and more we are seeing that in order to achieve sustainable, long-term success in the agricultural and horticultural sectors respectively, you need customised systems.”

Cherry Irrigation does work across Africa and Cherry says that in the regions where the company is active, issues like water scarcity, poor quality water and low fertility levels of soil are just a few examples of what agriculturalists must contend with when trying to produce a livelihood. “By customising irrigation and fertigation systems, we give growers some control back. We empower them through smart, efficient technology and crop monitoring solutions that enable them to increase profitability,” states Cherry.

“We’re seeing first-hand that customisation helps growers make best use of available resources. For crops that are highly sensitive to inputs (such as water quality and growing conditions), low yields or even potential crop failure are almost inevitable if you don’t go this route.”

He says that when it comes to successfully cultivating high-value crops or in situations where resources are scarce or of marginal quality, customisation is also crucial. Two of the latest examples of Cherry Irrigation’s success through customisation include projects done with citrus crops and blueberries respectively.

“We recently converted conventional drip irrigation to low-flow drip irrigation on citrus. The benefits of making the system upgrade included a lot of water savings, ease of use and improved quality of produce,” observes Cherry. “We also did upgrades on automation and emitters in a blueberry nursery and noticed enormous improvements, including water savings and better distribution uniformity, which led to better quality and a higher number of plants being produced. In both cases, the use of customised designs added enormous value and improved production, while saving on resources.”

Cherry says this is also why he makes sure his team works tirelessly to stay at the forefront of technological innovation. “If we understand the technical aspects of the industry, as well as the best tools and tech available to growers and producers, we can give our clients the best system for their needs and to fit their budget. We do an intense amount of research before we design any system (read more about the process).

“A knowledgeable irrigation designer will know how to incorporate different technologies into the design in order to address the producer’s needs – by, for instance, customising the type or level of automation, selecting the most appropriate type of emitters (drip vs micro-sprinklers) or monitoring systems for water quality (pH, EC, etc.),” Cherry explains.

Consistent communication is another key to success, he says. Depending on the situation, clients are encouraged to provide information such as soil maps and water quality, but overall it is best to for the designer to collect and/or verify all info that is to be used in the design.

“The basis of a good design is taking into consideration the resources available (water quality and quantity, growing medium, climate, management capacity of the grower, etc.) as well as the specific crop and the conditions under which specific crops need to be grown. We need this data to ensure that the design we create works best for that specific set of variables.”

These aspects, together with continuous consultation with the grower, ensure that appropriate solutions are found. Designs undertaken by Cherry Irrigation include deciduous and stone fruits, berries, cherries, citrus, cannabis, flowers, tree nuts, vegetables and avocados, both open-field and undercover applications.

“The Cherry Irrigation designer will identify suitable technologies and ensure that the most efficient system is designed, both in terms of water and energy use,” says Cherry. “It’s important to consider capital as well as running costs when planning a new system, as the expense of operating an irrigation system over its lifetime far exceeds the initial capital costs. We take all of this into account on a client’s behalf to ensure maximum return on investment. It’s a very scientific process.

“In short, consistency is key to success. Your initial outlay will be costly, but in the long term you’ll have a far more efficient, productive and profitable business. Customisation isn’t cheap, but it delivers,” he concludes.

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