Researching Precision Irrigation Benefits in Alberta
The “Towards Climate-Robust Irrigation Water Management for Potato Production” research is now in the second of a four-year project and it’s investigating whether precision irrigation can help increase water use efficiency and potato crop yields in Alberta.
Alberta’s potato growers produced roughly 1.1 million tons of potatoes in 2019. That tonnage was made up primarily of processing potatoes but there were also fields of table and seed potatoes.
There are five potato-processing plants in Southern Alberta – three that produce frozen potato products, while the other two produce potato chips. It takes a lot of potatoes to keep those plants going, which means it`s crucial to maintain yields and do it as efficiently as possible.
Willemijn Appels, the Mueller Applied Research Chair in Irrigation Science at Lethbridge College, explains they are trying to figure out is what fields would benefit most from the new irrigation technology that is available and ideally how you could manage that.
Appels says that in practice, a package can be placed on a pivot that allows the producer to control every individual sprinkler and vary how much water is used with that sprinkler. However, nobody has really figured to what extent that would benefit crops in Alberta.
“It’s relevant to look into that because water availability won’t increase in the next decade. High value crops like potatoes are very sensitive to water availability. We need to get a better hold on water use efficiency and using what we have in a smarter way.”
Appels’ research team is working with five potato growers and follows them throughout their growing season on sites located near Vauxhall, Bow Island and in the Taber-Coaldale area during the project. They are looking at everything from management practices, moisture levels and outcomes from various irrigation applications, to working out ‘what if’ scenarios.
This project is a partnership between Lethbridge College’s Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Potato Growers of Alberta, with USD406m in funding from the Federal and Alberta Government.