Sensor-based automated irrigation use in specialty crop production and root disease suppression
Wheeler, William Drexel
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The use of soil moisture sensor-based automated irrigation has been utilized to effectively control irrigation in both research and commercial settings. These studies sought to explore the possible benefits of sensor-based automated irrigation for commercial producers and the potential of these types of irrigation systems to reduce the incidence and severity of oomycete root pathogen infection. In commercial nursery production use of senor-based irrigation cut irrigation water use in half. However, reductions in water usage were not noted with sensor-based irrigation in commercial floriculture production. Historic grower irrigation practices and existing precision irrigation methods are thought to have resulted in the disparities in water savings between the two operations. In commercial floriculture trials sensor-based irrigation was judged to produce equal market quality plants while allowing for reallocation of labor away from irrigation management. In trials conducted at the commercial nursery in 2015 Rhododendron catawbiense irrigated with the sensor-based irrigation system experienced significant (>50%) crop losses. High mortality is thought to be the result of canopy structure that obstructed irrigation water capture to a greater degree than the other species within the irrigation group. It may be necessary to rethink irrigation groups around more accurate understanding of species daily water use when using more precise irrigation applications. Soil moisture sensor-based automated irrigation reduced infection rates in petunias grown with consistently low substrate water contents after inoculation with Pythium aphanidermatum. Reductions in root infection however were not correlated to reductions in plant mortality or improvements in marketability. Future studies could focus on the disruption of pathogen establishment (pre-inoculation) within the root zone by maintaining consistently low substrate water contents with sensor-based automated irrigation.