Umida AG represents a system or a platform change for agricultural irrigation in California, similar to the switch from flood irrigation to drip irrigation that started decades ago.
Water for agriculture
Surface water evaporates and Umida AG’s underground trenches will try to mitigate evaporation. During the winter months, when there’s an abundance of water, the trenches will help recharge underground aquifers for future water use.
The underground trenches would allow roots to grow deeper into the ground—close to three feet—providing a larger profile in the soil to sequester carbon.
Umida AG founder Joseph Gallegos has a crazy idea to stick trenches in the soil of agricultural fields to help manage water and carbon in California. Through test trials at UC Riverside and at Fresno State’s Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT), he has teams burying horizontal trenches at up to three feet deep. Supposedly, this will help keep water where the roots are and will increase the amount of carbon sequestration that can happen in the deeper root zones that would be established.
As California is in another damn drought and many of us are about to relocate to places blessed with more abundant water, Mr. Gallegos is working like a mad scientist to prove he can help. He believes strategically designed and placed trenches in the soil could eventually help get California farming to ‘net zero’ water farming where only natural rain, snowmelt, and pumped aquifers would be needed to irrigate the billions of dollars of annual farming output in the state.
As part of the solution, the Umida AG water trenches or pipes could be used to keep an appropriate amount of natural irrigation at root zones while filtering excess water down to natural aquifers where the water would be stored and later pumped to the surface for use.
Another potential benefit of these underground trenches would be allowing permanent crops such as almond and pistachio trees to get an optimal amount of ‘chill hours’ where the temperature of the tree is cool enough so it can rest. Just as we need sleep to refresh, permanent crops need chill hours. The underground trenches would keep the soil cooler with increased moisture and thereby increase the number of chill hours for the trees, an issue farmers are now having to contend with due to increased temperatures throughout the year.
Umida AG’s business development efforts may well be bolstered by California regulations relating to water management called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act or SGMA (pronounced as ‘sigma’).
If Umida AG’s trials at California universities go well, environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investors who focus on agriculture may become interested as would those of us in California who are looking for water.
About The Author
Jeff Macon is the venture development manager at Fresno State’s Water, Energy, and Technology (WET) Center where he supports the technology commercialization and business development of ventures providing solutions to Californians and communities beyond.