FRUITLOOK: the ideal tool to assist irrigation farmers

The Western Cape Department of Agriculture provides a free service to irrigators to assist them in managing their water resources and still obtain reasonable yields on their permanent crops, despite the water restrictions applicable.
Vineyards under irrigation, Somerset West, Western Cape. Photo © Grobler du Preez.

The below normal rain that fell during the past winter in many areas of the Western Cape resulted in water restrictions to the agricultural sector of between 20% and 43% in many river systems. The planting of cash crops can be managed in terms of the availability of water, but the irrigation of permanent crops will present huge challenges to irrigation farmers in the current irrigation season.

The Western Cape Department of Agriculture provides a free service to irrigators to assist them in managing their water resources and still obtain reasonable yields on their permanent crops, despite the water restrictions applicable.

As from 1 October, the FruitLook project once again provides weekly updates to irrigators regarding the actual water use of their vineyards/orchards during the previous week. This can be used as guideline to decide on the irrigation to be provided in the current week. By making use of this information, overirrigation can be prevented and the limited water resources can be used optimally. FruitLook also provides valuable information on water shortages that the crop might have experienced the previous week to assist irrigators in managing their crops’ stress.

How does this technology work? FruitLook uses the latest satellite technology to assist producers to precisely manage water use, production and crop growth. This technology provides irrigators with unique data products through obtaining information from satellite images (remote sensing) and weather stations and then calculates growth parameters by making use of complex algorithms. These parameters indicate the growth of the crop, the actual water use, how efficient the water use is and whether any water shortages (ET deficit) occurred.

Three water-related parameters are provided to producers. These relate to the actual crop water use (evapotranspiration), water use deficits and how effective the biomass produced utilised the available water. It reflects the actual growth that took place in relation to the water used during the growth process. The FruitLook data on water deficit helps determine whether the orchard/vineyard/potato circle experience water stress or whether any over-irrigation occurred. The information can be obtained on a weekly basis as well as on a seasonal basis, as indicated in the infographic below. FruitLook helps identify farm-specific problems. It can indicate whether a portion of an irrigation block experiences water shortages. It helps the producer elimi-nate uncertainty and save on irrigation-related expenses such as cost of water, electricity and fertiliser. It is well known that the irrigation rosters do not provide the best results and that problems can be experienced with soil moisture sensors/probes. It is therefore necessary to adjust the farm-specific management of irrigation to accommodate local conditions, plant development stages and stress factors.

Responses received from producers indicate that FruitLook is an extremely valuable tool to provide an overview of the water utilisation and water demands of the farm as a whole.

To increase the service provided to irrigators, the area covered by the FruitLook project have been extended to include potato producing in the Sandveld and the eastern boundary have been extended to include all crops up to Montagu/Bonnievale, as indicated on the map below.

How can producers obtain the FruitLook data? Scan the QR code or visit www.fruitlook.co.za to log on and register with your own login and password. Thereafter any vineyard/ orchard/vegetable land can be selected from the map indicating cultivated areas and for your own reference a unique name should be given to each block. Registration is once only and thereafter you will get direct access to the registered blocks each time you access the site.

It is recommended that producers visit the site to obtain the data provided free of charge to help them manage the challenges experienced with the limited water resources available this season. Producers are also encouraged to attend the monthly training session at Elsenburg to assist them with the interpretation of the FruitLook data. These sessions are presented free of charge and registered users are informed about the dates through the FruitLook newsletter.

The area covered by FruitLook as from this season – from Lutzville/ Vredendal in the northwest, De Doorns in the north and Montagu/ Bonnievale in the east.

For more information, contact
André Roux: andrer@elsenburg.com