"The Drier Side of Britain" is how the East Coast area, including Woodhall Spa, was described by the pre-war London & North East Railway's advertising slogan and it's still true today!
Cannons Turf based in Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire have had a relatively dry winter in 2006/7 compared to the rest of the UK which has meant they haven't suffered from the wet conditions like much of the rest of the country.
Of course, we must not forget the very dry summer of 2006 when irrigation facilities were a saving grace!
Cannons Turf has a "bullet proof" irrigation system, ensuring the whole range of specialist and domestic turf grades continue to grow throughout the summer and can be lifted whatever the weather.
This "bullet proof" irrigation system consists of a massive 60 million gallons of water, most of which is held in a number of reservoirs spread across the farm. Water can be distributed anywhere across the farm, day or night, so no matter which field is to be irrigated, the turf can be watered with ease, on time and with the minimum of wastage. This obviously also assists with minimising resource and ultimately costs.
Of the 60 million gallons, 51 million gallons are held in 3 storage reservoirs, which are filled using winter water from the farm dykes in the months of January to March. From an environmental perspective, the use of this winter fill system is highly favourable, with the added advantage that once they have filled the reservoirs, this water is paid for and belongs to them. Other water abstractors using summer licences and boreholes are at the mercy of the summer conditions and the decisions of the Environment Agency and could have their water supplies restricted or suspended at any time.
Boom irrigators are used which give a very even application and minimise the wastage of water through reduced evaporation and run-off. Wherever possible irrigation is completed at night, again minimising evaporation and reducing the stress of cold water hitting the crop which is under daytime heat stress.
Night-time irrigation is also favourable for customers as the condition of the turf can be optimised. On the hottest, driest day of July or August, turf is irrigated at night, harvested at 3am and then delivered as freshly as is physically possible to ensure the highest quality of turf arrives with the customers. Irrigating immediately prior to harvest gives the customer the maximum time to lay the turf without complication.
Over 400 acres of turf can be irrigated with 15mm (5/8") in just under 5 days!
Irrigation is carried out using 2 boom irrigators and 6 rain gun irrigators. The booms are more efficient and accurate and can deliver 15mm to 24 acres (9.72ha) in one day. The boom irrigators can cover 450 metres in one single run, taking 6 hours to complete. The irrigators have computers on them allowing application rates of between 6mm and 40mm, although Cannons have found that a rate of 15-20mm is ideal on their soil type to allow for the irrigation water to soak in without causing wastage through run-off.
All the irrigation machinery goes through a thorough service schedule in the winter so is ready to start up irrigation with 24 hours notice from the harvesting or production teams. Interestingly, in 2003 irrigation started on 22nd March and ran through to 24th October - a full 7 month season!