The irrigation protocol at the Model Farm will test new approaches to irrigation, such as drip irrigation design and scheduling (DIDAS), and integrate the most promising ones into current methodologies, including those indicated by the Agricultural Extension Service of the Ministry of Agriculture as well as the United Nations F.A.O. panels on irrigation. In addition, the Model Farm will be a place to examine various monitoring methods of determining direct and indirect water balance in the plant, to provide support systems for irrigation decisions including DIDAS.
The crop cycle selected for the Model Farm includes two winter crops without auxiliary irrigation: wheat and vetches mixed with clover, and three spring-summer crops with auxiliary irrigation: forage maize, sunflower seeds and chickpea.
For auxiliary irrigation, the Model Farm will operate according to the following principles:
- The irrigation method chosen for the Model Farm is soil-surface drip — drip pipes laid on the soil surface — the method that guarantees water efficiency and savings.
- Use of effluent water, same as that used in most of the field crops and orchards in the country. At Newe Ya‘ar, the reclaimed water has undergone secondary treatment only and therefore its use is limited to particular crop rotations, for example, use of such effluent precludes the growing of vegetable crops.
- The irrigation protocol will be based on irrigation scheduling recommendations issued by the Agricultural Extension Service of Israel and the F.A.O. These recommendations in terms of the amount of auxiliary irrigation have been established for the individual crops according to their phenological growth coefficient (stage of plant development) and the Penman Equation for evaporation (calculated daily evaporation for the area; for this calculation, the Ministry of Agriculture has established in the midst of the Model Farm a modern state-of-the-art meterological station that accurately senses the varying parameters of weather and evaporation).
- Irrigation adjustments in quantity and timing will be conducted regularly throughout the season, based on three databases:
(a) Data obtained by soil-moisture sensors – tensiometers – installed at various depths and volumetric moisture meters and plant sensors – dendrometers – that allow real-time assessment of dryness and saturation, throughout their entire spectrum, and on the basis of these data draw conclusions with regard to the amount and frequency of irrigation.
(b) Remote-sensing monitoring – analysis of satellite images taken in the invisible electromagnetic spectrum – such analysis has proven effective in characterizing soil, vegetation, and moisture contents. This imagery can provide important information on the well-being of the crop, and from this determine the needed quantity and frequency of irrigation.
(c) Monitoring with a drone equipped with a thermal camera and a hyperspectral camera.
- Testing techniques and approaches that could reduce water loss from the soil, including cover crops and organic mulches such as various types of straw.
In summary, the goal is to work with the existing irrigation protocol for each crop, and make adjustments and changes over the course of the season as needed. Monitoring soil and vegetation by using varied techniques, together with agronomic, economic, and conservation considerations, will optimize decision-making for irrigation scheduling and use.