Oct 11, 2016
MSU’s research stations get irrigation capability

In areas of the eastern U.S. with adequate rainfall, traditional wisdom says irrigation isn’t worthwhile, but that is changing. With the need to reduce risk and optimize root growth in high-density plantings, more fruit growers are installing irrigation, and improvements at Michigan State University’s Clarksville Research Center and the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center at Traverse City mirror that trend.

Trickle irrigation at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center
Trickle irrigation at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center

The 52,000 irrigation schedulers recently installed at Clarksville will evaluate weather and environmental information and translate it into a determination of irrigation need. The new, $44,000 system features wireless controls that will allow researchers to view irrigation in real time, schedule irrigation events and generate reports on the amount of water delivered to specific sets online or via phone. This will assist them in data analysis as well as in reporting methodology in publications and reports.

“Clarksville has 440 acres and that’s a lot of area,” said Matt Grieshop, Clarksville’s faculty coordinator. The research station has a range of soil types and the effects of even minor differences in rainfall can be significant. The ability to adjust trickle irrigation by block, variety, or research trial smooths out these differences and helps ensure establishment.

“This system can generate a lot of data,” Grieshop said. “It tracks inches of irrigation applied, and generates a season-long report in real time data, and that’s what researchers need to generate good data.”

“With the dry years we’ve had, irrigation is increasingly used to aid establishment and reduce risk, especially in high-density plantings,” said Nikki Rothwell, Extension specialist and coordinator of MSU’s Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station.

The improvements at the station included a $25,000 well upgrade and a $13,000, variable speed pump. The variable speed is more efficient when using trickle irrigation in research situations rather than pumping at well capacity.

“Ultimately, our goal is to provide answers and solutions to fruit growers’ needs,” Rothwell said. “To do that, we must be able to duplicate field conditions as must as possible. For increasing amounts of Michigan’s fruit production, that means having the ability to irrigate very accurately in research conditions.”

The irrigation improvements at Clarksville and the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Centers were funded by Michigan fruit growers through the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission.

— Dean Peterson

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