A technology conference could signal the beginning of a change in the agricultural complexion of the state’s San Joaquin Valley.

The Nov. 18 conference in Tulare, Calif., organized by the University of California Cooperative Extension’s Tillage and Cropping Systems Workgroup and the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, focuses on new irrigation technologies that could be applied during the valley’s hot spring through early fall period.

“What we’re trying to do its take advantage of these kinds of technologies,” said Jeff Mitchell, a cropping systems specialist for the Cooperative Extension, “They haven’t been used around here, at least not to a great degree.”

Cropping specialists are working with valley growers to determine the viability of moving to higher-value specialty crops, Mitchell said. The primary focus of the conference will be low-pressure overhead irrigation systems that may be used with center pivot or linear movement systems, he said.

“These are clearly technology packages that have, I believe from our research, considerable promise to be able to even more finely refine the irrigation applications,” Mitchell said.

The irrigation systems are likely not applicable to the valley’s major permanent crops, such as table grapes, stone fruit and citrus, most of which use drip systems, he said. But for vegetable growers and diversified farms especially on the water-starved west side of the valley, the overhead systems could enable farmers to apply water more precisely than they are able to do with furrow irrigating, Mitchell said.

It’s unknown how much water will be lost to evaporation during the very hot summer growing period.

“There will be an unavoidable, inevitable amount of water lost directly to evaporation,” Mitchell said.

The precision of the overhead systems may outweigh the evaporation problem, he said. Three valley growers have been experimenting with overhead irrigation systems and will address issues of crop growth, hardware considerations and return on investment.

Mitchell will share research findings that show growers can get additional water savings by combining overhead irrigation with conservation tillage.

“We have documented that keeping the soil covered with crop residue reduces evaporation, so less water must be applied to the field,” he said.

The free conference is at Southern California Edison’s Agricultural Technology Application Center at the International Agri-Center.

Growers seeking more information about the conference may contact Ron Harben of the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts at (559) 252-2192, ext. 105.