Trickle Irrigation Day

Mar 4, 2021
Growers quickly see benefits of drip irrigation

Some early uses of drip irrigation had their roots in southwestern Michigan.

The following is an excerpt from a story published in the February 1973 issue of The Great Lakes Fruit Growers News.

This is the latest installment in a series of stories marking the 60th anniversary of Fruit Growers News.

“To me the excitement of trickle irrigation is just beginning,” said fruit grower John Nye of St. Joseph in southwestern Michigan.

Nye said he could envision the potential for growers last year after he and his father, Harry Nye, installed the system in two pear orchards. These orchards were set with a heavy crop but caused concern about adequate moisture to size the fruit.

“Through trickle irrigation we were able to economically supply sufficient water to prevent moisture stress from developing which would have an adverse effect on the crop size,” Nye said. He noted that the difference of one-quarter inch or more in size of the fruit can add enough income to pay for the system in one year.

Last year, however, late summer rains continued through harvest to lessen the results of trickle irrigation. This pointed up the need to Nye for a more automatic way of using trickle irrigation. In other words, he asked, why should a grower with trickle irrigation put on a certain amount of water each day regardless of the natural rainfall during the same period? What growers really are interested in through irrigation is a means of supplementing natural rainfall with a system that applies the trees or
bushes moisture lost through evaporation.

If this is accomplished, Nye said a growth curve for any given fruit will remain constant because a water stress condition does not develop. Traditionally, he said, growers with irrigation equipment would apply water when the trees began to show wilt. Even if irrigation was applied immediately after these symptoms appeared, the potential size of the crop was reduced.

John Nye of St. Joseph, Michigan, points toward a feature in the control box of the automated trickle irrigation system he designed and was manufacturing.

This often meant, too, that a large quantity of water would be applied in a short time and with a considerable effort on the part of the grower. The grower often irrigated at night to minimize the loss of water from evaporation.

Thus the need for large volumes of water, cost of equipment, labor necessary to move pipe and check equipment all hours of the day or night made irrigation a questionable investment for tree fruit growers. The small- or medium-sized grower found the cost in money and time too great.

Nye has designed and now is manufacturing an automated enclosed pumping system for trickle irrigation that can utilize an available water supply from a spray tank or small pond. He is offering 10 different models that include four different pump sizes so any size grower can find what he needs. The large-size unit has a capacity to cover 50 acres.

A.L. Kentworthy, Michigan State University horticulturalist, refers to Nye’s equipment as the “plug-in unit. It features a painted galvanized steel box with cover that can be virtually placed anywhere and plugged into the system in a matter of minutes. All of the necessary pumping, straining, metering, timing safeties and electrical equipment are contained within the unit.

“Power can be either 110 volts or 220 volts. The water supply can be from either overhead, such as a spray tank, or below as in the case of a pond or river. All units can also incorporate the latest soil moisture sensors for automatically coordinating this with natural rainfall, but this is an optional feature that can be added later. A warning light mounted on the exterior tells the grower if the strainer has become plugged or the water source dried up. A flow switch has already automatically turned the system off to protect the pump.

“Nye said he realized the value of a self-contained unit such as this one when he began putting together the trickle irrigation for the pear orchards.

“His units are sold under the name of TRICKL-EEZ Co. and are available through Michigan Orchard Supply Co. in South Haven.”

Trickle irrigation welcomed

Also in March 1973, a Trickle Irrigation Day was held in Paw Paw, Michigan. The event was covered by The Great Lakes Fruit Growers News.

“Michigan processors who are always on the lookout for ways to produce larger-sized fruit are well-pleased so far with the results observed from trickle irrigation.”

This was the expression of representatives of three major processing firms at Trickle Irrigation Day sponsored by the Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service.

Those speaking on the question of “What Trickle Irrigation Has Done for Certain Processing Crops and Our Expectations for Its Future Use” were James Breinling of Gerber Products Co., Wayne Griffin of Silver Mill Frozen Foods and James Wilson of Michigan Fruit Canners.

They agreed on five major points considering the advantages of trickle irrigation. These are as follows:

1. By bringing fruit trees into bearing one year sooner, trickle irrigation helps the economic situation faced by growers.

2. By increasing fruit size, trickle irrigation boosts production per acre.

3. Trickle irrigation offers greater benefits to longer-season fruit crops by minimizing possible moisture stress in late July and early August.

4. Trickle irrigation can level production between years by relieving an alternate-bearing tendency with light-yielding years following heavy producing years.

5. In high density plantings, trickle irrigation will reduce competition for soil moisture between roots.

Breinling, who is a horticultural researcher for Gerber Products, gave examples of what additional fruit can mean to the grower. For example, he said there are 364 Amergem peaches of 1.75 to 2 inches in size in each 50 pounds of fruit. This number of fruit drops to 265 per 50 pounds with fruit between 2 and 2.25 inches in size, 204 fruit when the fruit measures between 2.5 and 2.50 inches, and 158 with fruit 2.5 inches up.

Processors will continue to study the effects of trickle irrigation on size and early bearing this season. If trickle irrigation can provide an extra quarter of an inch in sizing, it is well worth the cost, they said.

Trickle use spreads

Reported in the November 1973 issue of The Great Lakes Fruit Growers News:

“Any doubt that trickle irrigation has come of age can be relieved by Cal Plummer of Plummer Bros, Hastings, Michigan, who this year alone had a personal hand in the installation of 250 acres of it, as well as handling the engineering and supplying materials for some 800 more acres.

Most of these installations, he said, were on fruit farms in Michigan, although some were in orchards in several other Great Lakes states. All of the installations, however, shared one of two things in common, that is, they either were in new plantings or in older orchards of a moisture stress condition prevailed.

Generally, too, trickle irrigation is needed more on high light soils than on heavier ground, Plummer said.

Plummer, who installed his first system in 1971, probably can lay claim to having more first-hand experience with trickle irrigation than anyone else, and is well recognized as the authority on the subject.

“We have now moved in to second-generation trickle irrigation systems,” Plummer said.

— Gary Pullano, editor; Photo at top: Trickle Irrigation Day held in Paw Paw, Michigan, featured processor views about trickle irrigation. From left, are Wayne Griffin of Silver Mill Foods, James Breinling of Gerber Products Co. and James Wilson of Michigan Fruit Canners who are shown with Jordan Tatter, district Extension horticultural agent. Photos: Great Lakes Fruit Growers News




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