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Monitoring Substrate Water Content in Nurseries: More Efficient Irrigation and Reducing Leaching and Runoff

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  2011 Louisville, Kentucky, August 7-10, 2011  1111254.(doi:10.13031/2013.37786)
Authors:   Sheryl Wells, Matthew Chappell, John Ruter, Paul Thomas, Marc Van Iersel
Keywords:   Keywords Irrigation, nutrient leaching, soil moisture sensors, wireless sensor network

Excessive irrigation in nurseries is common and can result in leaching and runoff of fertilizer salts and nutrients and pesticides, especially when plants are grown in containers. One major obstacle to improving irrigation practices in nurseries is that it is difficult for growers to determine exactly when their crops need water and how much water needs to be applied. We have installed a wireless sensor network in a commercial nursery that allows growers to monitor substrate water content. This information can then be used to improve decision-making regarding irrigation frequency and volume. Our results show that soil moisture sensors can be used to track changes in substrate water content, and that the sensors respond quickly to irrigation events. Leaching can be detected from a rapid decrease in substrate water content following irrigation. In a related study, we used soil moisture sensors to control irrigation of container grown hydrangea and gardenia. Irrigation control using soil moisture sensors was deemed practical. Leaching of fertilizer was reduced with more efficient irrigation. Wireless networks have potential for irrigation monitoring and control in container nurseries. Benefits of this technology include water savings, reductions in runoff of agrochemicals, lessening of disease pressure, and ultimately facilitating significant financial savings.

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