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nternational symposium on horticultural irrigation takes centre stage in Stellenbosch

Horticultural experts from around the globe will convene in Stellenbosch next week. The International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) is a global network of over 70 000 horticulturists, experts in the horticultural industry, universities, industry organizations, government representatives and companies. This independent organization creates a platform for research, science-based information exchange and collaboration across the globe. This is all to enable sustainable innovation in all aspects of horticulture.

The 10th International Symposium on Irrigation of Horticultural Crops will be hosted at the STIAS (Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study) Conference Center in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape from 29 January to 2 February 2023. It is a joint initiative between researchers from the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, Stellenbosch University and Pretoria University.

The wider horticultural industry welcomed the hosting of a renowned international event on local soil. “The horticultural industry is key in South African agriculture and many of our local farmers of horticultural crops are world leaders in advanced agricultural practices. The industry is geared towards continuous improvement and the exchange of knowledge to ensure that the highest standard of agricultural practices is followed. We are proud to be involved with an event that supports this level of sustainability, knowledge share and continuous improvement,” said Michael Esmeraldo, managing director of Netafim South Africa. Netafim is the main sponsor of this locally hosted symposium.

What makes this event even more special is the fact that the ISHS irrigation symposium is only hosted every three to four years. This year, the event will be attended by 153 registered delegates from 18 countries around the world. “This year’s symposium is particularly well-supported by delegates from countries in Mediterranean climate regions and many other regions where irrigation plays an important role in the successful production of horticultural crops,” noted Professor Stephanie Midgley, convener of the 10th edition of the International Symposium on the Irrigation of Horticultural Crops.

Prof Midgley reiterates that this symposium presents a massive opportunity for role players in the industry to learn about the most up-to-date, cutting-edge international research, that is often not yet published in the scientific literature. “Novel measurement and modelling approaches, new and improved sensing technologies, and new scientific insights into crop physiology and irrigation–related production improvements will be presented.”

Massive value lies in cooperation in research beyond the borders of countries and continents. That, says prof Midgley, is one of the main benefits of the organisation and the symposium. “Delegates will use this opportunity to meet researchers from around the world with similar research interests

and to discuss new collaborations and research funding sources. Several early-career researchers in horticultural science and irrigation science have been sponsored to participate and will particularly benefit from the exposure gained by presenting their work, learning from the best in the world, and competing for two awards from the ISHS.”

Local Benefit 

Experts in the industry jumped at not only the opportunity to acquire and share knowledge, but also the opportunity to spend time in the picturesque Western Cape, with farm visits planned in the region. The symposium is expected to have a lasting positive effect on the region, industry, and country as a whole. Beyond the influx of foreign exchange through delegates travelling from abroad and the stimulating effect an event like this can have on the local economy, there is potential benefit for food security and rural upliftment. “One of the dominant themes of the symposium is how to practice irrigation more sustainably in an era of water scarcity and climate change. In South Africa, better management of water in agriculture, resulting in more crop per drop, and more income per drop, will help to safeguard future food security and livelihoods, and strengthen our rural communities and economies,” explains prof Midgley.

The local hosting of an international symposium such as the International Symposium on Irrigation of Horticultural Crops, is not only an honour but also an opportunity for the local academic field to be showcased locally and internationally. These events never disappoint in their ability to create connections in an industry and beyond. “The symposium has been planned with the clear purpose to give local technical experts and practitioners, such as consultants, irrigation companies and commodity organisations, access to learn about science-based new and improved irrigation technologies. They can participate in rigorous discussion about taking stock of where we are with data-based precision irrigation and sensor technology, what is working and what is not working in practice as expected, how to improve on-farm application for profitable results and identifying where the knowledge and technology gaps are that require further research,” reminds prof Midgley.

Towards Higher Efficiency 

Experts will engage on several crucial themes in horticulture. As higher efficiency and responsible use of resources become increasingly synonymous with agricultural success, one of the main themes will be the more efficient and sustainable use of water resource in the horticultural industry.

Presentations will also focus on precision irrigation as experts discuss sensing of crop water stress and precise and data driven application of water to crops to prevent stress or over-irrigation as well as the better management of horticultural crops for water deficit, drought, and heat stress conditions.

Experts will also consider the relation between water deficit and fruit quality and open the topic of measuring and modelling evapotranspiration for irrigation scheduling.

Water quality remains an important topic in irrigation discussions and experts will speak about irrigation with poor quality water. Other themes will include the irrigation and nutrition of herbaceous and undercover horticultural crops, as well as the use of remote sensing including satellite imagery and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for application in irrigation scheduling.

Another important topic under discussion will be the development and testing of next generation low flow and ultra-low flow drip irrigation systems. The availability of low flow drippers and the irrigation practices that are resulting from this irrigation technology, is one of the drivers of growth in some of Southern Africa’s most important agricultural crops. “The fact that we have access to

drippers that offer ultra-low flow rates, for example, has made it possible to completely change the way we irrigate. As our understanding of plants’ water requirements and ability to measure aspects such as soil and plant moisture have improved, our understanding of irrigation scheduling has also evolved. This has led to innovation in irrigation system and pumphouse design, irrigation scheduling, as well as many other aspects of irrigation. Innovative technology makes several innovative practices possible,” says Charl van Reenen, Agronomy Manager at Netafim South Africa.

Van Reenen reminds of Netafim’s commitment to knowledge share, innovation and continuous improvement through research and development. “We are passionate about sharing knowledge with farmers and all role players in the irrigation and wider agricultural industry. We focus on not only sharing our expertise, but we also place massive value in research cooperation and field trials. This is why it is so important for us as global leader in the irrigation industry to support a growth opportunity for the local and global industry as this symposium will offer,” says van Reenen.

In the Field 

The symposium also offers a field excursion where delegates will visit three contrasting on-farm irrigation research and innovation sites. Another highlight on the programme is a technical day specifically aimed at including more local participants. This day will make up the last day of the symposium and local industry delegates could select to attend only this technical day. The programme will include scientific presentations around remote sensing applications for managing irrigation of orchards, precision irrigation and irrigation systems, deficit irrigation and drought stress, as well as a facilitated panel discussion to discuss the interface between science and practice.

Given the host of important themes to be discussed and the expected high level of knowledge share and information exchange, it is important that the reach of this knowledge is not limited to the delegates of the symposium. The symposium organisers therefore made it a priority to connect with a media partner to extend the reach and impact of the event. Landbouweekblad came aboard as the media partner, recognising the importance of the irrigation industry, the value of an international event such as this one and the importance of further spreading the knowledge shared at the symposium. “Irrigation remains crucial to ensuring food security in a water scarce country such as South Africa. It is a privilege for Landbouweekblad to have the opportunity to support a symposium that is aimed at optimising a critical component in agriculture, such as irrigation. Landbouweekblad has been on the continuous journey towards sustainable profitability with South African farmers for more than a century and will continue to prioritise opportunities to enable the exchange of information,” said Chris Burgess, editor of Landbouweekblad.

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