Commissioner Adam H. Putnam

Florida Agriculture: 500 Years in the Making

Commissioner's Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award

2002 Winner

Holloway Irrigation Systems,
Holloway Tree Farm
Leesburg, Florida

Flood-plain irrigation is one of the oldest forms of watering crops. Collecting rain water is one of the simplest. Recycling irrigation water is both economically and environmentally sound practice.

Rufus Holloway put those three ideas together and the result was the Holloway Irrigation System, an ingenious method of watering containerized plants that provides substantial benefits for the plants, the growers, and the environment.

Rufus Holloway came from a Leesburg farming family that had been producing citrus since 1929. He received degrees from the University of Florida and Duke University Medical School and became a respected surgeon at the Florida Ear Institute in Orlando. But he continued the family citrus farming tradition until 1983 when a severe freeze destroyed most of the groves in the region, including several acres on the family farm. While continuing to practice medicine, he sought a new direction for his farming and began Holloway Tree Farm, a nursery that produced high-quality, container-grown ornamental trees.

The invention of the Holloway Irrigation System was borne out of the necessity of efficiently watering the ornamental nursery. The best irrigation technology at the time used networks of thin tubes and micro-nozzles that would often jam or clog and required considerable labor to maintain.

"The idea came to me over a period of several months for developing an irrigation system that was different than the conventional system that I’d grown up with, and with which we had started the tree farm in the 1980s," Holloway said. "The idea was to develop something that was less labor intensive and that would also save water."

Assisted by his son, Michael M. Holloway, the vice president of operations at Holloway Irrigation Systems and also a doctor specializing in orthopedic surgery, Rufus Holloway constructed the first simple system out of children’s swimming pools in which he set potted plants. He immediately noticed two things: the plants didn’t need as much water as with other types of irrigation systems, and the plants grew more quickly.

The Holloways then built a full-size system, laser sculpting the ground contour and using a special white polyethylene membrane to line the system’s reservoir and multiple flood plains, effectively isolating the system from the ground underneath. Rainwater is gathered over the entire membrane area so that many inches of rainwater are collected for each measured inch of rain that falls. The rainwater is immediately transferred to the reservoir for storage. In areas with more than 25 inches of rainfall a year, the system uses 100 percent recycled water, drawing no water from the aquifer or the earth’s surface. The system on the Holloway Tree Farm is such a self-contained system, and each year saves 4-6 million gallons of water per acre over traditional irrigation methods.

"One of the best assets for a source of water is the sky," Michael Holloway said. "And what’s exciting about this system is that it’s a new and innovative way to harvest rainwater for reuse."

Large pipes connect the reservoir and flood plains, and a valve system controls flow so that each plain can be irrigated individually. Water is pumped onto a plain by a large-volume, low-pressure pump, rises to a predetermined level, and then is allowed to drain back into the reservoir by gravity. A half-acre plain takes about 30 minutes to fill with 10 to 12 inches of water and then just a few minutes to drain. While the plain is flooding, water enters the pots through holes low on their sides and saturates the soil around the roots, leaving the top layer of soil dry and reducing the chances of weed growth and insect infestation.

Each container absorbs water until its soil reaches its saturation point, and that complete saturation -- combined with extra heat reflected off the white polyethylene membrane -- increases plant growth rates by up to 50 percent Water delivery is consistent and uniform to plants within a flood plain, which means that irrigation can be done less often: sometimes as little as once every three days in contrast to the two or three times per day required by traditional microirrigation systems.

The system has few moving parts and needs few repairs. There are no filters to inspect and clean, no wells to dig, no small pipes to clog or rupture, and no microjets to examine. Rufus Holloway estimates savings as great as $4,000 a year in labor and maintenance costs and a further anticipated savings on fertilizer. Highly efficient pumps keep electrical costs low: an estimated $100 a year to irrigate 16,000 trees.

The system is also extremely environmentally friendly. No undesirable byproducts are produced, and the impermeable polyethylene membrane keeps fertilizers and pesticides from getting into the ground. The system also makes good use of the land, as it can be custom designed to fit sloped or flat terrain. Finally, as the system uses only collected rainwater, no well or water-usage permits are required.

The Holloways clearly understand the water-use responsibilities of growers in a state with a rapidly increasing population.

"There’s a strong case that should be made for any kind of water conservation," Rufus Holloway said. "But to conserve good water is a must, particularly if we are going to continue to grow at the rate we’re growing in Florida." -- 2002


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