A research report released by the American Floral Endowment (AFE) addresses how the floriculture industry can use efficient irrigation practices to become increasingly profitable and sustainable in a time when concerns about water scarcity, runoff regulations and the high cost of fertilizer are commonplace.
Researchers Alem Peter, Paul Thomas and Marc van Iersel from the University of Georgia and Stephanie Burnett from the University of Maine examined how fertilizer and water levels affect growth. While the research focuses on petunias, it is translatable to almost any greenhouse plant.
“By implementing more efficient irrigation practices, growers can reduce the amount of fertilizer they need to apply, and that is going to help their bottom line as well as the environment,” van Iersel, the lead researcher, said.
He explained that automatic irrigation is helpful in preventing overwatering, a prevalent greenhouse concern. Overwatering washes fertilizer away from plants, which is costly and a potential environmental problem. Automatic irrigation ensures plants will only be watered when necessary and only with the amount of water they can actually use.
“One of the biggest challenges agriculture will face in this century is water availability,” van Iersel said. “More and more people are competing for water, and agriculture will have to find out how to use water as efficiently as it possibly can.”
Less wasted water means less runoff, making it possible to reduce fertilizer concentrations, perhaps by up to 50 percent. This becomes increasingly helpful as more states implement guidelines about fertilizer runoff.
Van Iersel said the researchers are currently working to commercialize a system that can automatically examine soil moisture samples and irrigate crops, which he hopes will be commercially available later this year.
By making the industry more sustainable and profitable, van Iersel described this research as a “win-win for everybody,” growers, wholesalers and retailers.
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