Once again, I have a few reporting tidbits left over after finishing up a story.
(I hope this isn’t a bad habit developing.)
This time the leftovers are about Yakima Valley’s hops coping with drought and heat.
I spent a morning at Carpenter Farms in Granger with foremen, irrigators and a Simplot consultant going over water data in a boardroom. I found it fascinating.
For 15 years or more, the farm has used Australian-made probes that send data via radio transmission to a database that tracks soil moisture levels. Each week, consultant Doug Oliva downloads the info and reviews the details with the Carpenter family owners and their high-level employees.
Never has the information been more crucial than in this year’s record-setting drought, said Brad Carpenter.
Oliva’s computer program makes graphs, projected from his tablet onto a screen, for each field showing time and dates on the x-axis and water levels on the y. He and George Ochoa, the farm’s irrigator, decide which plots to water every three days or every four and how long to leave the drip lines open each session.
A healthy plot has a graph that looks much like a human heartbeat. The line shoots up after each watering, then gradually declines as the roots drink.
This year, spring rain storms, heat waves and the three weeks when the Roza Irrigation District shut down appear as irregularities to the heartbeat. Oliva can even tell, down to the hour, when a pump went out or when a drip line was accidentally moved.
“Whoa, what happened here,” he exclaimed after spotting an out-of-whack graph. “Did Gary go on vacation?”
They all put their heads together and determined that a fuel pump on one of the diesel pumps had been running with inconsistent RPMs.
“See, that thing don’t lie,” Carpenter said. “It knows more about us than we do.”