- Fruits: apples
- Vegetables: greens (lettuces), tomatoes
- Crop Production: irrigation
- Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, workshop
Problem and Justification: Irrigation is an important component of field management for both tree fruit and vegetable crops. For a producer to maximize irrigation effectiveness, knowing when to irrigate is as essential as knowing the irrigation rate. Currently, most irrigation is applied based on grower experience or simple observations. This may lead to the waste of over-irrigation or the ineffectiveness of under-irrigation. When correctly employed, appropriate irrigation scheduling methods may reduce water usage and increase profitability and sustainability. Fundamental scientific research and technological developments are necessary to achieve greater accuracy in the irrigation decision-making process for the average grower. Sensor-based precision irrigation is one strategy for optimizing water use while simultaneously maintaining consistent crop production and quality. Pennsylvania is a large agricultural state, where fruit and vegetable crops are among the major commodities. Yet despite advancements in precision-agriculture technologies such as GIS guided planting systems or aerial crop monitoring, many new technologies remain underutilized. The primary goals of this project are to develop an effective, affordable precision or automated irrigation system for Pennsylvania fruit and vegetable growers and to educate growers about establishing a system in their operations.
Solution and Approach: These goals will be met in three stages: 1) Test multiple sensing technologies for their effectiveness in monitoring soil water conditions, crop water stress, and for durability and reliability. 2) Develop a networked, wireless, centralized automated control system to collect sensing data and design algorithms to correlate microclimate data, soil conditions, topography, and crop load, health and vigor with sensor data. Correlated data will be used to inform the grower of field conditions requiring manual intervention or provide instructions to the automated irrigation controller. 3) Evaluate crops as they mature and after harvest to provide feedback to the algorithms allowing for further refinements until the system has reached optimal performance. The education plan will proceed concurrently with research and development. 1) Cultivate producer interest through multiple seminars, site-visits, and workshops. 2) Train growers through videos and multiple online and printed documents that demonstrate the selection, installation, configuration, and monitoring capabilities of selected precision irrigation technologies and associated control software. 3) Assist growers in implementing precision sensing and irrigation systems on their farms through multiple workshops and provide a complete workbook to guide them through the process, from budgeting to system operations.
Performance targets from proposal:
Forty fruit and vegetable growers with 1,000 acres of crops adopt precision irrigation methods to optimize water usage, ten of these farms report an increase in average crop yield as a result of improved irrigation.