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New Irrigation Strategies Combat Georgia Water Shortages And Aid Pecan Farmers

Sep 29, 2015 06:07 PM EDT
Pecan Orchard
A pecan orchard used in a research study demonstrated pecan trees can tolerate a 38 percent reduction in irrigation water use with no significant effect on nut yield or quality.
(Photo : Lenny Wells.)

Researchers from the University of Georgia have developed water-saving protocols for farmers looking to supply their pecan orchards with the ample amounts of water they reguire during their kernel-filling stage, which generally falls between August or September. Georgia is considered the largest pecan-producing state in the U.S. However, the state only receives an average rainfall of about 127 cm annually. 

Even given the rain shortfall, Dr. Lenny Wells, author of the recent study from the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, says current irrigation schedules are extremely outdated. In fact, he's noted that procedures used today are based on a 1985 study related to plant water stress, evapotranspiration and soil water depletion generated in more arid climates.

"These schedules often fail to take into account that supplemental rainfall may reduce the need for [wasteful] irrigation water before the nut sizing period in humid climates," Wells said in a news release. "A plant-based measurement, such as stem water potential, should be a straightforward indicator of plant water stress and of the need for irrigation because it measures the integrated effect of soil, plant, and atmospheric conditions on water availability within the plant itself," 

For his study that resulted in water-saving protocols, Wells and his team compared an early season irrigation schedule to the currently used midday irrigation schedule and tested the differences between the two on at a commercial pecan orchard planted in the kinds of soil – Tifton loamy sands – that are common throughout the southeastern U.S. 

After conducting his tests, Wells concluded that a reduced early season irrigation schedule cut water usage by 38 percent without stressing pecan trees. Crop yield and quality also went unaffected. 

"This suggests that water stress in pecans is influenced by growth stage and nut development. During the kernel-filling period, water stress may be a function of crop load in addition to soil moisture." Wells concluded

The University of Georgia study was recently published in the journal HortScience

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