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Stories from the valley

Our first irrigation date may surprise you

Contributed by Tim Johnson

You’d think in a drought that you would start watering a vineyard early. In fact, the couple of inches of rain and the mild May allowed us to delay our first irrigation until mid-June.


When we did start watering, it was only when the numbers told us it was time to start. The Irrigation Management System we have been a part of our operation since he 1970s measures moisture in the soil, forecasts the amount of water the plant will use and then gives a target irrigation date.

We will follow this system for the season, making a few adjustments here and there based on observations of the vines themselves. When the leaves at the base of the vine start to turn brown and drop you know its time to turn on the drip system.

Unfortunately, it’s harder for our urban neighbors to manage water so tightly. While water timers are a huge improvement, without soil moisture readings, it really is watering by schedule rather than need.

The important thing is that we all do what we can to use just the water we need. Know that those of us in agriculture take this charge seriously. By using technology to tell us when the vines need water and then applying it through an efficient drip system, we’ve been saving water even before the drought.

Tim’s day job is CEO of the California Rice Commission. Evenings and weekends his wife Ann presses him into service at the family vineyard in the Sierra Foothills.