Sep 19, 2023
Advancing crop management at Great Lakes EXPO

Growers to learn irrigation management, apple-water relations and benefits of solar technology

Growers know that irrigation is one of the most important management measures during apple cultivation. Apples can be highly sensitive to water supplies and irrigation efforts can significantly affect apple fruit yield. Technology also plays an important role in the field, helping growers with crop management while using renewable energy. During the 2023 Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO attendees will have the opportunity to learn more about apple-water relations, proper irrigation management and how solar technology is improving yield, return on investment (ROI) and more. 

Dr. Alan Lakso

Dr. Alan Lakso, emeritus professor at Cornell University, will have two sessions at Great Lakes EXPO 2023. In one session, Lakso will discuss apple-water relations regarding water management, while the other session will discuss challenges growers may face with new technologies.  

During Lakso’s session, growers will learn everything they need to know before implementing a successful irrigation schedule. According to Lakso, understanding your soil is crucial in irrigation management — this can often affect how often you need to irrigate. Lakso also mentions the size of trees is important. 

“Young trees have fewer and shallower roots, which means less soil water is available, so they may need to be monitored carefully for stress and irrigated more often,” Lakso said. “More mature trees have more leaves, which lose more water, but have deeper and more extensive root systems. With variable soils and erratic climate, it is best to integrate experience, water use models available online and some type of soil or plant monitoring to get the right amount of irrigation to avoid stress but not waste water.”

Understanding tree water relations is also important when conducting an irrigation schedule. Specifically for apples, Lakso recommends growers develop a water use model specific to apple physiology for more accuracy in humid climates.

“A key difference between trees and annual crops is that the water stress levels in the tree are regulated not only by the soil water availability but also by the weather. Even with wet soil a hot, sunny, dry day will cause stress as the evaporative demand of the hot, dry air will pull a lot of water from the tree,” Lakso said.

Soil health is often crucial to a successful crop season. According to Lakso, the connection of soil health to water relations isn’t well understood yet — except when looking at how specific water treatments increase soil health, organic additions and more.

“Understanding how water treatments may increase the soil water holding capacity can reduce the need for irrigation and extend the period between irrigations or rain,” Lakso said. “This helps avoid water stress, but in the specific case of red wine grapes that need some summer stress for slower canopy growth and best quality, it may induce too much vine growth — there is a lot to learn.” 

There are many innovations and technological advances that can be beneficial — and exciting — for tree fruit growers. Some include remote sensing, plant sensors and software packages that collect and integrate data through the Internet of Things (IoT), according to Lakso. 

“There’s a lot of potential with new technology, but it is still early to know which will be the most useful for growers without overloading them with data,” Lakso said. “The best usually will be the ones that start with a grower problem rather than start with a technology and assume the grower will need it. Each grower may need different answers for different needs like mineral nutrition, water and irrigation, thinning and yield estimation and more.” 

Incorporating Solar Technology

Joe Czajkowski, farm manager at Joe Czajkowski Farm LLC in Hadley, Massachusetts, specializes in strawberries, carrots, kale, brussels sprouts, sweet corn, broccoli, tobacco and more. 

During the Great Lakes EXPO, Czajkowski will give a session on his experience of growing crops under solar panels, specifically dual-use agri-voltaic solar. 

“There is a place for (solar panels) on many farms in certain locations. Not every location works, you need 3-phase power lines with available capacity nearby and you need to be close to a power substation,” Czajkowski said. “We put ours on a field with very little topsoil where we rarely got good crops. Now, we have electric well points and can get better productions.”

The advancement of technology has changed crop production for farmers and growers across the world. Utilizing new technologies in the field can save labor costs, improve net earnings and increase yields, according to Czajkowski. 

“I see solar and other new opportunities like solar as good changes for the future with technology. Wonderful work is being done on clean energy and for farms to be a part of that is really good,” Czajkowski said. “In 20 years, the world might be completely different, but farming will still be there and planning for that will always be important.”

Learn more about these sessions and others at The 2023 Great Lakes EXPO will be held Dec. 5-7 at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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