Courtesy Stemilt GrowersGrowers including Stemilt Growers and Organics Unlimited have installed drip irrigation in their fields to help conserve water. A computer regulates the microsprinklers to provide more precise and direct application of water.Technology tends to drive advances in sustainability, and every year brings new opportunities.
For Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, Wash., that technology comes in various forms, such as smarter irrigation techniques.
Any of the company’s new or replanted orchards are using a new energy-efficient, variable-drive irrigation system, communications manager Brianna Shales said.
“It’s computerized irrigation, and it allows us to reduce our water usage,” Shales said.
Traditional orchards typically use overhead sprinklers, but the new system uses micro-sprinklers located closer to the trees, so water application is more direct and precise.
In addition, water is only given to trees that need moisture, as determined by the computer system, Shales said.
“It’s basically using a computer to detect how much water is needed,” she said.
The water savings should be significant.
“All farmers face water issues, so we are taking steps to make sure we can continue to grow fruit,” Shales said.
The ultimate goal will be to replace all the systems, though the company does work with independent growers, and those operations wouldn’t necessarily implement this technology, though some likely will.
“For most people, it’s the logical next step,” Shales said.
Kathleen Phillips, supply chain sustainability manager for Pro*Act, Monterey, Calif., thinks sustainability and technology go hand in hand.
“You can’t have one without the other,” she said.
In terms of soil and water management, Phillips thinks the main forms of technology innovation will be in the area of computerized automation.
Phillips anticipates science will contribute to advancements in soil amendments and other areas, including trying to breed seed varieties that are able to thrive in existing soil conditions, which would reduce the need for soil amendments.
Developing software has been one critical area of technological approaches for Mucci Farms, since businesses typically tracks costs, and those efforts focus more on quantities.
“Our business system wasn’t designed, nor is it well suited, to meet our sustainability requirements. We’re developing sustainability software that will import standard reports from our existing business systems software,” said Jim Gallant, vice president of operations and engineering at Remasco, Kingsville, Ontario.
The new software will make the job of reporting sustainability information easier on an ongoing basis, Gallant said, though there is time and effort involved.
“In 2012, when we were working on data from 2011, it was very time-consuming to assemble what we needed. In 2013, when we are doing 2012, there will also be significant effort in developing the software even though the information is more readily available,” he said.
“In 2014, when we’re working on 2013, it will hopefully be easier because we will have made good progress in integrating the sustainability software into our business systems, thereby facilitating the data collection exercise,” Gallant said.
The sustainability software is also being integrated to include solutions for other needs, such as food safety and maintenance, in an attempt to gain more functionality and cost savings.
“If we used the software exclusively for sustainability, there would be little payback from the expense and effort, but we’re using it as a springboard to implement and improve other aspects of our business, including maintenance scheduling and tracking and monitoring or reporting food safety procedures, so we will see reduced costs and a payback in that sense,” Gallant said.