WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. -- Constant moisture is important to the health and growth of potatoes. Ebe Farms in Whatcom County has tested out several types of irrigation systems to find the most efficient way to keep their potatoes hydrated while conserving water.
Greg Ebe, the manager at Ebe Farms, says his family got started in the potato industry in the 1920s. His grandfather was a German immigrant and started the seed potato program in Whatcom County.
“We’re blessed with some of the most primed soils in the country, in Whatcom County, for potato production and also a great climate,” Ebe said. “But, we still have to supplement with irrigation, and that’s just critical to us.”
Initially, the potatoes were irrigated with handlines, which, Ebe says, requires a lot of labor. And, they are only about 75-80% efficient.They switched to big guns hose reels and unfortunately those are also not very efficient. Big guns reduced labor, but were only about 66% efficient.
“We were not making good use of our water,” Ebe said. “Soil and water is everything to us.”
They have started to convert a lot of their fields to a drip irrigation system, which is 95% efficient. Mark Goodman with Ebe Farms says that the new systems help replenish the soil.
“We are able to maintain a moisture balance throughout the day, a 24 hour period, which is an ideal irrigation technique for a potato crop, which is extremely moisture sensitive,” Goodman says.
The new irrigation system is placed right in the root zone, so there is less evaporation. Ebe says the technology is still evolving, but it is continuing to improve.
Ebe Farms currently uses satellite feeds to see how their crops are doing. They can see how hydrated the crops are or if they are stressed in any way.
Ebe says the technology allows them to monitor how effective the irrigation systems in place are. They can compare the fields day-to-day to see how weather is also impacting the potatoes.
“Water is critical to our operation. There’s a lot of competing uses for water. We need to manage it as a finite, precious resource. Drip irrigation makes the most efficient use of the water, rather than waste the water, it leaves it for other uses, such as the salmon habitat. Farming, in general, is the most compatible land use to creating a healthy habitat for salmon recovery.”
REAL Environmental Action & Leadership is an effort by Whatcom Family Farmers - Education to help the greater Whatcom County community work together to continually improve environmental practices, and for increased awareness of the family farming community’s Real Environmental Action and Leadership. Whatcom Family Farmers - Education is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.