Oct 31, 2018
Irrigation treatment units offer alternatives to acid injections

Chemical-free water treatment systems offer a new way to deal with hard-water problems in irrigation systems and orchards.

In addition to building up inside irrigation systems and on fruit, hard-water minerals can impact plant uptake of nutrients like calcium from the soil.

A common technique has been to inject of sulfuric acid, an option that lowers the water pH while keeping the minerals from binding to the insides of the irrigation system, and which keeps nutrients such as calcium useable by the orchard trees. Other alternative substances include fulvic acid, hypochlorous acid solution, and sulfur burners that combine SO2 gas with water to create sulfurous acid. But chemical treatments do have their downsides: Sulfuric acid is dangerous to handle, and other acids are more expensive.

Chemical-free water treatment units offer another way of dealing with the problem.

As one example, Flow-Tech Systems partner Mark Meyer described how the technology works in the systems produced by his company.

“We’re all trying to do the same thing, and that is charge the ions when they’re still in a dissolved state,” Meyer said. Attached to an irrigation system, Flow- Tech’s proprietary unit creates a powerful electromagnetic field in irrigation water, charging the mineral ions so that they bind only to like particles, instead of the irrigation piping, filters or the fruit itself.

“Essentially what we’re doing is we’re charging the calcium when it’s still in a dissolved state,” Meyer said. “As we charge those ions, they’re starting to stick together, and form what’s called seed crystals.”

An apple with irrigation scale build up, left, and a clean apple. Photos: Flow-Tech

Hard water “scale” on fruit is a concern in Washington state and other areas where growers use overhead irrigation to cool fruit trees, Meyer said. But with minerals like calcium bonded to each other, they don’t stick to the fruit, and “it’s just a fine dust that settles on the fruit itself and then you can just wipe it off,” he said.

Meyer acknowledged his company has many competitors, but said they didn’t generate as powerful an electromagnetic field throughout an entire irrigation system.

What is certain is that growers may find it difficult to decide on a water treatment system to trust.

Chris Lattak of St. Joseph, Michigan-based Trickl-eez Irrigation said trying new, different water treatment systems can be a little bit like kissing frogs to find a prince. But he knew of several companies that were “demonstrably effective.”

“Advancing Eco Ag (AEA) initially directed me to Talya, Pursanova and Waterchangers. … Pursanova made me aware of Omni-Enviro from Australia, and subsequently Maximum H2O and Magnation (both offshoots of Omni- Enviro),” Lattack said. “In a nutshell, those are the only systems I have any real familiarity with. I’m sure there are some other ‘princes’ out there, but (a contact) at AEA has assured me that they have encountered many ‘frogs’ as well.”

But Lattak said references, case studies and testimonials help convince growers to try the technology. Lattak said he personally had been able to confirm a claim from Maximum H20 that a Canadian group of growers had luck using that company’s system from stopping mineral buildup in their irrigation system.

“Where their water quality usually required disposing of their veggie tape every year because of mineral build-up, the units actually kept their tape clean and they were able to use the tape a second season,” Lattak said.

Flow-Tech has only been in the agriculture industry for a couple of years – previously it sold the technology in the industrial and residential markets – but already it’s working to demonstrate its effectiveness to growers. In 2017, Flow-Tech invested in percolation and crop observation studies in Boardman, Oregon, and in 2018 is conducting trials with Oregon State measure how its treated water is affecting scale control, soil moisture and calcium uptake. Data from the studies should be finished this fall and Meyer hopes to attend winter trade shows with the data in hand.

“This year, we have some pretty iron-clad data,” he said.

Flow-Tech is a wholesaler, distributing its units through retail outlets, but Meyer estimated costs at $10,000 to $50,000 for an orchard of 400 acres or less.

Still, growers can be a skeptical group.

“Farmers do not believe until they see for themselves,” Lattak said. “A farmer’s brother may do it, and tell his brother how well it works, but the brother won’t believe until he sees it on his own farm. That is what makes farmers such a tough sell.”

– Stephen Kloosterman, FGN Associate Editor

Top Photo: Flow-Tech’s system treatment system can be attached to the exterior of an irrigation line. It has a control panel and plugs into a 110-volt outlet. Photo: Flow-Tech

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