Ozone for cleaner irrigation lines
Tree fruit growers are using a noninvasive, nontoxic way to prevent build-up of algae and bacteria in irrigation lines.
Steve Jones, owner of Colossal Orchards, Selah, Washington, planted these Sunset Bing cherries last year and will train them to the Kym Breen Bush system, with trees planted 12 feet apart. By planting late-season cherries, he is extending his harvest wind
A product that had its beginnings in the livestock industry is now finding application in agricultural irrigation systems, helping growers keep lines clean.
Ozone technology has been used for years to sanitize water in municipal water systems, swimming pools, and spas, and, lately, in fruit packing lines and wineries as a chlorine alternative. But growers are now showing interest in the ozone technology, said Roger Wilson of Wilson Orchard and Vineyard Supply in Yakima, Washington. Wilson is a dealer of an ozone machine made for irrigation systems.
Oxion, Inc., a company from Kansas that holds the patented process covering the ionization of air and admixing it into irrigation water, began selling the ozone devices in the early 1990s to keep livestock drinking water clean. Feed intake of livestock is directly related to the amount of water the animals drink—the more they drink, the more they gain, according to research.
Oxion soon found other agricultural applications for its small, portable device, including preventing build-up of algae, iron bacteria, fungi, and other organic biofilm in irrigation systems. The company also claims that their ozone system increases dissolved oxygen into the irrigation water by 30 to 45 percent, which results in improved water penetration, better nutrient uptake, healthier root systems, and reduces fungal pressures from diseases like phytophthora and pythium. Some growers have eliminated gypsum applications to the soil after installing Oxion machines, according to product literature.
Steve Jones, who grows about 60 acres of cherries, Earligold apples, and Bartlett and d 'Anjou pears in Selah, Washington, and holds the distinction of being the largest chestnut grower in the state with 16 acres, has used the Oxion ozone system since the early 1990s, even before units were being sold locally.
Jones, who was a dairy nutritionist before becoming an orchardist, knew Oxion's technical representative Roland Lodge and was familiar with the livestock application of ozone. Jones wanted to stop algae from plugging his drip lines that irrigated chestnuts and pears. He now has four ozone units to cover all of his tree fruit and to use in cleaning and storing his chestnuts. Although the original drip lines have been switched to sprinklers, the units are still valuable in keeping his irrigation system clean.
"After I started using the ozone, I didn't see any calcium deposits that can frequently be seen on different orchard and irrigation equipment," Jones said, adding that puddling of water during irrigation in his older blocks also disappeared. "I found ozone to be a noninvasive way to keep my lines clean. I thought of using copper sulfate, but then I'd be adding too much copper to the trees."
Brothers Darin and Bryce Molesworth, owners of Brass Ring Orchards of Mosier, Oregon, have shifted from hand lines to impact sprinklers to drip irrigation in their cherry orchards as they strive to conserve water in the sensitive Hood River watershed. "We pump from deep wells and we're in a critical groundwater area," Darin said. "We were looking for a way to clean our lines because we have a --terrible problem with iron bacteria."
This will be the first full season they will use two Oxion units, a three- and six-cell system. "Already, large chunks of 'stuff' are coming out of the lines," Darin said, --regarding the cleaning action of ozone. Before purchasing the ozone units, they tried using bleach to clean the lines and were considering using sulfuric acid. "But then you're adding those chemicals to your trees, and we didn't want to be doing that," he said.
If the other benefits that are claimed by the company come true, Darin said, referring to improved water penetration and increased respiration and nutrient availability, he considers that "a bonus." They don't have experience yet with the ozone units through an entire growing season to see differences in water penetration.
Oxion's portable units range in size, treating 300 gallons of water per minute to 1,200 gallons; cost of the units varies from $6,000 to $12,000.