Spotlight on SWEEP - NAPA Farms, LLC

Apr 26, 2024

Spotlight on SWEEP - NAPA Farms, LLC

Apr 26, 2024

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In 2021, Nav Athwal, of NAPA Farms, LLC received funding through the CDFA Statewide Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP). He has 140 acres of young pistachio trees in Merced County, and wanted to build an irrigation system as efficiently as possible.

He opted for adding deep root irrigation, which can be attached to his existing dripline. Instead of a traditional drip emitter at the soil surface, he added a buried vertical rod with holes in it, buried about 24 inches deep, with two such rods next to each tree. When asked why he chose this method, Mr. Athwal says, “In the 2020-2022 drought, we were struggling to put enough water on our trees to meet their peak demand.  Water was very expensive and the cost to drill a well was also very expensive.  Deep Root Irrigation (DRI) offered us an ability to meet the trees demand but with a water savings ranging from 20-30%.  In CA, water is gold and DRI helps us use this vital resource more wisely.“

Additionally, as part of his SWEEP grant, he added a variable frequency drive (VFD) to his existing irrigation pump. This will allow him to save energy by varying the amount of energy used by the pump when irrigating different-sized fields. He also installed a weather station with 7 moisture sensors throughout the field, which are tied into an automated system that he can control on his phone. This means he can remotely check on moisture levels throughout the field, and schedule irrigation sets only when necessary. This can be especially helpful in the spring as temperatures are rising, the soil surface appears dry but there can still be plenty of moisture down the soil profile.

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As we visited his fields, what you mainly notice are the tall rows of cover crop in between his tree rows. He says, “I'd spoken to a lot of farmers who had used cover crops and couldn't wait to tell me about the benefits that this practice offered.  When it comes to farming, my mentality has always been farm the ground as if you will farm it forever.  Soil health is a major part of that and when I learned of others positive experiences with cropping, I wanted to try it myself.”

He teamed up with the local RCD to participate in their Conservation Innovation Grant and try cover cropping on some of his fields. Since then, he has expanded the practice to 80% of his fields and plans to continue. Nav says he “saw first hand the difference cover cropping made with respect to water infiltration, breaking up hard dirt, filling cracked dirt, creating a habitat for beneficials, increasing organic matter and the list goes on."

Both deep root irrigation and cover cropping can be a big adjustment. His advice to growers who want to try either practice is, “Start small.  Test it out on a block, make sure it works for you and then you can expand from there.  For DRI, the hardest thing to get right is the installation.  Make sure you have a crew that understands the installation process and doesn't cut corners.  As for cover crop, work with Project ApisM...they are a great resource! “

“As farmers, our job is to produce quality food for the world while preserving natural resources to the best of our ability.  We're stewards of the land, water, soil etc. and finding ways to preserve these resources not only help the environment and our neighbors, but our overall economics as well.”


If you are interested in the SWEEP program or have questions, click here to contact a technical service provider near you. 


By Caddie M Bergren
Author - Climate Smart Agriculture Program Specialist