Precision irrigation for ornamental plant

Jul 12, 2013
Precision irrigation for ornamental plant

A prototype of precise irrigation system tested in Italy for ornamental plants nurseries as water shortage puts pressure on growers

The dosage of and nutrients is often excessive for some of the crops' requirement, as the most water demanding species set the standards. This happens because cost of irrigation water tends to be low in Europe. But now,  are putting pressure on plant growers.

Precise water management offers one solution to make plant production more sustainable. This is what Italian partners of a EU funded research project called FLOW-AID have tested. They developed an irrigation prototype designed for container-grown  near a town called Pistoia, in the Tuscany region, which is considered to be one of the most technologically advanced nursery areas in Europe.

The prototype combines so-called WET sensors with so-called fertigation controllers. The latter assess the level of fertiliser application through the . "The [WET] sensor measures the amount of water and the level of [by measuring ] and transmits the data [via a wireless link] to a computer,"Alberto Pardossi tells He is the project partner leading the Italian team and the director of the University of Pisa's doctoral programme in Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The software then processes these data in accordance with specific algorithms developed by the project. It also controls a series of actuators, such as the dosing pump injecting the fertiliser in , as a means to try to optimise and limit fertiliser use. The technology can also be used to avoid salinisation of the growing medium when so-called dual water is used—a combination of well water and sterilised urban wastewater.  This is made possible thanks to dedicated fertigation controller capable of blending waters of different qualities. When the WET sensor detects an increase in salinity, the controller reduces it by switching from one source to the other.

Some experts are enthusiatic about this approach. "This [technology] can effectively bring great advantages to irrigation management," says Silvio Fritegotto, agronomist, nutrition and fertigation consultant based in Poggibonsi, in the Siena province of Italy. "Not only it allows to save water but also to better feed the plant, which therefore grows better and produces better," he adds.

The type of precision irrigation is most likely to be adopted in ornamental nurseries grown in containers in greenhouses without soil, according to Renato Padulazzi, agronomist, grower connection at Toro Agriculture, based in Fiano Romano, near Rome. "In container and soiless grown crops you need a precise control of each parameter since even a small mistake can do irreversible damages," Padulazzi tells "On the contrary, in the open field the soil acts as a buffer, so fewer precision is is needed." 

The software-based approach devised by the project has become more common and cheaper as well as easier to use in precision agriculture. However, this technology has not yet been widely adopted. In many cases, good quality water is still too cheap to change over more sophisticated and more expensive systems. Fritegotto also attributes this slow uptake of the technology to the fact that " [at least in Italy] agriculture is often linked to small-sized farms and aged farmers, while [its adoption] is...often left to individual efforts." Other experts such as Padulazzi agree: "Many times farmers do not have the adequate knowledge on water and nutrients management and don't feel the need to innovate they way they produce". 

And large-scale applications are still not very common in Europe, even in ornamental nurseries, considered to be the most technologically advanced field in agriculture. Application of this technology to large surfaces could be done in open fields, for instance, in vineyards and orchards, according to Fritegotto.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is promoting economic incentives for producers to acquire equipment and technologies able to reduce water consumption without dropping productivity. Experts agree, however, that a drought is still the biggest incentive for farmers to rationalise water.

Explore further: Leaded gasoline once dominated the manmade lead emissions in South America

More information:

Related Stories

More crops per drop

Jul 12, 2013

A solution is much needed to fight droughts and preserve crops. Researchers have now developed a device capable of checking the humidity in the soil, and releasing irrigation water as needed – just enough without wasting ...

Two approaches for optimizing water productivity

Apr 29, 2013

Agricultural Research Service researchers in Bushland, Texas, are helping farmers make the most of their water supplies in a region where they depend on the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive underground reservoir ...

Smart solutions to a worsening water crisis

Apr 11, 2013

Innovative policies and new technologies that reduce water waste are helping countries across the Middle East and North Africa deal with chronic water shortages.

Satellites can help to grow the perfect grape

Dec 21, 2011

A little water is needed to make wine, but how do you know when enough is enough? ESA’s GrapeLook service can give you the answer.   GrapeLook uses satellites to help decide how much to water vi ...

Recommended for you

Drought damage leads to widespread forest death

18 hours ago

The 2000-2003 drought in the American southwest triggered a widespread die-off of forests around the region. A Carnegie-led team of scientists developed a new modeling tool to explain how and where trembling ...

Good luck and the Chinese reverse global forest loss

18 hours ago

Analysis of 20 years of satellite data has revealed the total amount of vegetation globally has increased by almost 4 billion tonnes of carbon since 2003. This is despite ongoing large-scale deforestation ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.