Earlier this month I visited Louis Loubser’s farm just outside of Robertson in the Breede Valley. Louis is the man behind the ‘Tree Hog’ – a simple, but extremely effective invention that can bring about considerable reductions in on-farm water and energy use!
The Tree Hog is an angular structure, made from durable plastic, that sits around the base of a tree. The structure can easily be clipped on or off of a tree, and accommodates irrigation lines and a micro-spray system. Thought has gone into the specific angles of the structure, to ensure the optimal spread of the irrigation water – described as “combination of drip and micro-irrigation in one product”, concentrating the micro-spray in a small area (Kriel, 2016).
While on the farm, Louis demonstrated how the Tree Hog works. Louis has set up two adjacent and newly planted citrus orchards. In one of the orchards, Louis has installed the Tree Hog on all trees; the adjacent orchard is a control (i.e. no Tree Hogs installed). Louis has identical irrigation system setups for both orchards (micro spray and the same pumps and pipe diameters). The Tree Hog “ensures that irrigation is targeted to the area where the grower requires watering. Furthermore it disperses water over a wider area than drip-irrigation does, producing trees with root systems that are better developed”. The Tree Hog is likely to also reduce evaporative losses, in addition to potentially providing a series of other non-obvious benefits which are still to be investigated (McDonald, 2017).
After just 20 minutes of irrigation (both pumps at the same pressure: same flow of water through each system), the effectiveness of the Tree Hog was clearly evident: in the orchard with the Tree Hog systems installed, irrigation water had penetrated to a depth of roughly 30cm, due to the volume of irrigation water being applied to a smaller, more focused area. However, in the adjacent control orchard and over the same period of time, the irrigation water had penetrated just a few centimetres below the soil surface.
From this, it is clear that the Tree Hog can bring about considerable water savings, critically important in the context of the Western Cape’s current period of drought, and given projections of increasingly variable rainfall driven by climate change. From an article posted by Hortgro Science, regarding a preliminary one year trial undertaken by Louis, “trees only need to be irrigated for one hour per week compared to six hours typically needed when conditions vary. He also logged a 62% saving on water and electricity” (McDonald, 2017).
Louis’ invention is a great example of constraint-driven innovation (unlike problems, constraints cannot be eliminated). Hopefully the current water shortages will inspire the development of more disruptive water-use efficiency innovations – watch this space!
For more info on the Tree Hog and to contact Louis – click HERE.
Kriel, G. (2016). Cutting water and energy use in orchards. Farmer’s Weekly. [Online]. Accessed 17-05-2017: http://www.farmersweekly.co.za/crops/fruit-nuts/cutting-water-and-energy-use-in-orchards/
McDonald, D. (2017). Tree Hog enters production as water shortage bites. Hortgro Science. [Online]. Accesssed 17-05-2017: http://www.hortgro-science.co.za/tree-hog-enters-production-water-shortage-bites/