Kitayama Brothers, Inc. (KBI) hydroponic greenhouses with micro irrigation have been in use for years in their 40 acres of…

Kitayama Brothers, Inc. (KBI) hydroponic greenhouses with micro irrigation have been in use for years in their 40 acres of green houses on Thursday, August 27, 2015, in Watsonville, CA. Sterile reclaimed and recharge water is used all or in part from the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency (PVWMA) and flows through micro irrigation tubes and emitters at each plant. This is one of the water saving systems the family uses. KBI are active members of the commercial agricultural community in Pajaro Valley and Santa Cruz County, exploring new ways to improve their quality and business efficiencies.

Agriculture has been a part of the Kitayama family for three generations, since before WWII, when the founding grandfather Takeshi Kitayama began growing flowers and vegetables in Washington. In 1945, after internment, his sons Tom and Ray Kitayama, started a nursery and the business grew. They became leaders in the wholesale flower industry. in the mid-90’s, the business continued to grow, and a third generation of family members joined and formed Kitayama Brothers, Inc. Today, the business grows a variety of lisianthus, lily, Gerbera, snapdragon and others, additionally; land is leased to other growers for strawberries and a variety of other crops. Located ¼ mile from the Pacific Ocean (Monterey Bay) Kitayama Brothers, Inc., employs 100 - 300 people depending on the time of year. To water all the flowers, the business uses a combination of irrigation water sources that include ground water wells; sterile reclaimed and recharge water, rainwater harvesting, hydroponics and micro irrigation system. Over the past 15 years, the amount of water from PVWMA has been reduced by 2/3s, making onsite ground water wells ever more important, and a factor in groundwater deletion. Today, there is a high demand on well; this has been a factor in (seawater) salt intrusion in all of their wells, one having to be shutdown, because of the salty water harms plants. There must to be enough fresh water in aquifers to fill the underground basin to resist the inland migration of coastal seawater through the land in between.

About this time, during 2007-2008, KBI turned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and talks began about a green house roof drainage system that harvests rainwater. Through a system of pipes, water collects in a plastic lined pond for immediate indoor micro irrigation. KBI were active members of the agricultural community and sought water supply development and filtration solutions to improve efficiency and lower operating costs years before the current drought conditions.

Financial incentive cost shares from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and technical support from an USDA NRCS engineer to help design and plan the pond lining and other system improvements and additions.

The system has been in operation for one and a half years and has captured 12 acre/feet of water in its first year. It not only captures the water from the greenhouse roofs, it also allows water to be blended with water from well systems and/or reclaimed water from the PVWMA. The pond also allows the business to save money by running electrical pumps during low demand periods of the power grid, when electricity costs are lower. As refinements are made, greater levels of efficiency and cost savings are expected.

An additional system captures water from their hydroponic nursery systems that uses filters and UV light to clean and sterilize the water for in-ground plants. Water used in those fields; percolate down through the soil, helping to recharge the subsurface water basin; help resist salt intrusion, and return as a water resource for their irrigation wells.

Through discussions with the local Community Water Dialogue (CWD,) and equipment loan from the Resource Conservation Districts (RCD), he learned about the use and potential benefits of wireless soil tensiometer and completed a trial use. As they learn to use the recorded data, they see a possible 10-15% reduction in water use by eliminating overwatering on the sandy soil in this area.

Kitayama Brothers, Inc. strives for quality and efficiency and report that the clean water sources they are harvesting and using provides better quality and yields. For more information, please see and USDA photo by Lance Cheung. Original public domain image from Flickr

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