Title: 2002 Ag-Environmental: Holloway Irrigation Systems
Type: Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award
Farming and caring for trees is nothing new to the Holloway family. Land now lined with container-grown crepe myrtle, holly, ligustrum, magnolia, and live oaks, was once covered with citrus groves. A presence in Central Florida’s citrus industry since1929, the family operated groves in Leesburg for decades before paring down their citrus operation in the 1970s. By the early 1980s, the Holloways diversified into the ornamental tree industry. When the severe freeze of 1983 virtually wiped out the citrus in the region, the family maintained their farm by continuing to produce the high-quality, ornamental trees that have become the hallmark of the Holloway Tree Farm.
Today the air is filled with the sound of metal shears and soft Spanish laughter. With care and precision, workers trim back hundreds of young potted Live Oaks. Under the guidance of owners Dr. Rufus “Dick” Holloway and son Dr. Michael Holloway, they prune away branches to help create the lush trees sought by landscape architects and designers throughout the Southeast.
Eventually the morning sun gives way to the threat of an afternoon summer storm. And though the pruning in the nursery stops, the farm is ready to harvest its most valuable crop -- rain.
As Florida’s population grows, the tug-of-war between farming and development over freshwater use will continue. Like many agricultural ventures across the state, Holloway Tree Farm has used a variety of conventional irrigation methods to determine the most efficient system. But overhead systems were inefficient and the more advanced technology of micro-nozzles required considerable labor to maintain. And both are a drain on the aquifer.
A practicing ear surgeon in nearby Orlando, Dick Holloway is also an avid conservationist and environmentalist. As active owner in the nursery, he searched for a new and totally different way to efficiently water his ornamental trees without tapping into Florida’s tightening water supply.
Dr. Rufus “Dick” Holloway, CEO, Holloway Irrigation System: The idea for developing an irrigation system came to me over a period of several months in trying to develop something that was different from the conventional system that I’d grown up with, and with which we had started the tree farm in the 80s. The idea was to develop something that was less labor intensive and that also would save some water.
Assisted by his son, Michael, Dick Holloway began experimenting with the ancient practice of flood plain irrigation. By saturating potted plants from the roots up in pools of water, he immediately noticed two things: the plants used less water and they grew more quickly. From this simple experiment the father-son team developed the Holloway Irrigation System, or HIS, an economical and environmentally sound method of watering potted plants with recycled irrigation water.
HIS is made up of two parts. The first part is a one-acre retention pond for the collection and storage of rainwater; the second is a series of flood plains used to stage plants for irrigation.
Dr. Michael Holloway, Vice President of Operations, Holloway Irrigation System: The unique part is that we’re actually collecting rainwater over the entire production area. So the entire 12 1/2 acres is lined with an impermeable membrane plastic liner. And when it rains we’re collecting water over that entire acreage.
This self-contained system is so effective in retaining and recycling rainwater, that in the three years of operation, it has not drawn a single drop from aquifer, surface or ground water. The result is an annual savings of 4 to 6 million gallons of water per acre over traditional irrigation methods. And because it uses only rainwater, the system requires no well or water-usage permits.
Water is pumped from the reservoir onto a flood plain by a large-volume, low-pressure pump. Each plain is irrigated individually to a predetermined level saturating the soil around the roots of each container, leaving the top layer of soil dry. This reduces the chances of weed growth and insect infestation. The saturation, combined with extra light reflected off the white liner, can increase a plant’s growth rate by up to 50 percent. It also allows the root ball to develop more uniformly, resulting in a healthier plant.
Since water delivery is consistent within a flood plain, irrigation is needed only once every two to three days, as compared to the two or three times per day required by traditional micro-irrigation systems.
A half-acre plain takes about 30 minutes to fill with 10 to 12 inches of water and just a few minutes longer to drain. The contour of each flood plain, sculpted with laser precision, allows the water to flow back into the reservoir by gravity alone.
The Holloway Irrigation System has few moving parts and requires few repairs. There are no wells, no filters or small pipes to inspect and clean, and no micro-jets to examine. Dick Holloway estimates saving as much as $4,000 a year in labor and maintenance. Highly efficient pumps also keep electrical costs low: an estimated $100 a year to irrigate 16,000 trees. In areas of the country where water is limited or costly the system pays for itself within a few years.
HIS is environmentally friendly. Because of its impermeable polyethylene membrane, it is a closed-loop system, meaning that no fertilizers, pesticides, or other chemicals ever get into the ground. To reduce the nutrient build-up that could occur when recycling water, fish have been added to the pond. Not only do they control the algae growth, the fish themselves often become prey for ospreys, falcons, and eagles, creating a micro-ecosystem.
The Holloways understand well the water-use responsibilities of growers in a state with a rapidly increasing population.
Dr. Michael Holloway: One of the best assets for a source of water is the sky and what’s exciting about this system is that it’s a new and innovative way to harvest rainwater for reuse.
Dr. Rufus “Dick” Holloway: There’s a strong case that should be made for any kind of water conservation, but to conserve good water is a must, particularly if we are going to continue to grow at the rate we’re growing now in Florida.