Stellenbosch – Deciduous fruit growers could benefit from a novel water saving device which is set to revolutionise irrigation in the fruit production sector amid water shortages.

The SA government’s Water and Sanitation Department in February said that the country was operating under drought conditions and the situation was expected to continue for at least the next two years.

While water shortages are becoming a daunting reality in the agriculture sector, one innovative grower has decided to do something to ensure the resilience of his farm’s water supply.

In most cases necessity drives invention and the case of Louis Loubser was no different. In December 2016, a wall of an irrigation canal from the Breede River collapsed, leaving him dependent on a limited water supply at his Robertson Farm.

After much experimentation and playing around, Loubser’s brainchild – the Tree Hog – was born. According to classroom geometry the device is roughly a ‘cubic isosceles trapezoid’ and resembles and upside down box shaped pot plant holder. In this case the tree emerges out of the bottom of the pot with the lower part of the tree covered.

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, outdoor and nature

Targeted irrigation

Loubser says the Tree Hog is a combination of drip- and micro-irrigation in one product. “It concentrates the water from the micro-sprinklers in a small area, creating an intense drip action. Micro-sprinklers tend to waste water because some inevitably lands in the pathways between tree rows,” he told Farmer’s Weekly.

The device 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.

A preliminary one year long trial undertaken by Loubser on a citrus orchard has shown that trees only need to be irrigated for one hour per week compared to six hours typically needed when conditions vary. He has also logged a 62% saving on water and electricity.

The promising preliminary results of the Tree Hog has led to the involvement of Stellenbosch researcher, Dr Elmi Lotze, who says that the device is a natural extension of her research on organic and inorganic mulches.

“To me this is a valuable alternative to existing local options to decrease evaporation and increase available water to the plant – especially in resource poor areas with reference to lack of suitable mulch material,” says Lotze.

Lotze’s trial aims to quantify above ground vegetative and physiological changes when using the Tree Hog, as well as monitoring below ground moisture and temperature changes.

“We also plan a destructive root distribution evaluation over time and will look at additional non-obvious benefits and/or attributes of the enclosure… We will also make use of satellite imaging technology (Fruitlook) to quantify changes on a larger area.”

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature

Dr Elmi and Gustav Lotze

Loubser told HORTGRO Science that he is currently in partnership with Barloworld SA, and that the production “tool” has already arrived in South Africa from China. So the Tree hogs are produced locally in South Africa

“We would like to go on a roadshow in the next six months and would like to present the Tree Hog to farmers through their unions … 200-300 samples have been made for farmers to test,” he said.

Barloworld Temo Parts
– Janus Weir 011 898 00 00
Orders + Logistics 083 644 85 57

Tree Hog Technical
– Louis Loubser