Water-wise, regenerative farming puts every rain drop to work

Water-wise, regenerative farming puts every rain drop to work

It’s easy to forget the value and importance of water. Maybe it’s because it’s everywhere – for many of us, it’s one of the most consistent things in our lives. Even during a drought, we turn on the faucet, and water flows. We expect it will always be there to nurture us. But what if we thought about every drop of water as if it were the last? Would we pay more attention to how we use it?

At Frog Hollow Farm, we treat every drop of water as the precious resource that it is. Here is a roundup of how irrigation trends are impacting us and how we are responding.

Sensing the changes: In 2020, we installed Farm(x) sensors in the orchards that measure the moisture in the root zone of our trees. Before we installed these sensors, Farmer Al would look at the trees and the soil – above ground observations would guide our decision to irrigate. We will always depend on our observations and knowledge. But sensors now help us double-check our assumptions, take the guesswork out of irrigation, and help us save water during droughts and wet weather. We check the sensor read-outs weekly.

Rainy season savings: In 2020-21, we received the standard 9 inches of rain in Brentwood. But 2022-23 had a rainy surprise for all of us! Frog Hollow Farm reaped the benefits of about 30 inches of rain during this rainy season.  When it was time to think about irrigating in the spring, we made our above-ground observations and saw that our trees looked healthy and they were not under stress. Then we consulted our Farm(x) sensor read-outs that confirmed our observations that we wouldn’t need to start watering most of our orchards until May. Two orchards didn’t need watering until June. This was a big change from spring 2022, when we started irrigating in April.  

Spongy soil retains water: We spread tons of compost each year, and we encourage cover crops to grow across our orchards. We till every 20 to 30 years when planting a new orchard. As a result of these regenerative management techniques, our soil is a sponge – photos from winter storms showed the stark difference between our orchards and other farms in the area whose soils are degraded with regular tilling and weeding. Leaving the ground uncovered and regular tilling also contributes to runoff, which degrades topsoil and water quality and can contribute to flooding.  

A neighbor's flooded field (left) compared to Frog Hollow's fields in January 2023Our soil held onto the precious rain we received, which allowed us to start irrigating in May/June, instead of March. As a result, we reduced our water use by 38 percent between August 2022 and July 2023. This is the equivalent of 62 Olympic-sized pools of water!

Excellent apricot crops in 2023: From healthy soil to chill hours, there are many factors that contribute to a great crop. We can’t say for sure, but we think that our regenerative farming approach (which retained every drop of rain possible) led to a bumper apricot crop in an unusually wet year. 

As we look forward to fall and winter rains, we are feeling confident. We know we can’t control Mother Nature. But we can use our knowledge about what works and what doesn’t – and combine that knowledge with sensor technology – to treat every drop of water with respect.

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