By Clint Thompson
Water is one of the most valuable resources Florida vegetable and specialty crop producers utilize every season. But that doesn’t mean there’s an endless supply.
“I think it is easy for us to forget it is a finite resource and there are limits. It’s easy for us to forget because we just got five inches of rain at my house from (Tropical Storm) Elsa. The week before that, we got eight inches across the week,” said Michael Dukes, irrigation professor and director of the University of Florida/IFAS Center for Land Use Efficiency. “That makes it easy for us to look out and say, ‘There’s too much water. It’s everywhere.’”
But at any point a drought could spark concerns for farmers in the middle of a production season. Producers only need to look out west to the devastating dry conditions growers are having to contend with. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, conditions are either in an exceptional drought or extreme drought from New Mexico westward.
Water supply is at a premium if those conditions ever become that severe in the Southeast. Technological developments have helped growers be more efficient with one of their most valuable resources.
“We do know there have been many technologies developed in the last several decades to make irrigation management more precise. There’s more efficient equipment out there. This is kind of an old example, but the big example that pops into my mind is citrus. Citrus in the 80s was irrigated with overhead sprinklers. Of course, for many decades now it’s been micro-sprinklers under the tree,” Dukes said. “That saved, literally, billions of gallons of water in the recent decades. Technologies like drip irrigation, variable rate irrigation or center pivots, low pressure pivots; all of those technologies are derived from a need like the water shortage in the west.”
More advanced technologies include soil moisture sensors. They provide farmers data to help them understand when water is needed at any point during the season. It’s a form of precision agriculture which helps farmers conserve water.