Section 72
Chapter 71,106

Leachate and Irrigation Sensor Development and Performance in Container NURSERY PRODUCTION

Cypher, Q.; Fulcher, A.; Wright, W. C.; Sun, X.; Fessler, L.

Applied Engineering in Agriculture 37(1): 65-75


ISSN/ISBN: 0883-8542
Accession: 071105244

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Nursery crops are often over-irrigated, resulting in wasted water and agrochemical inputs. Irrigating based on leaching fraction is recommended, yet an automated system for measuring and recording nursery container effluent (leachate) does not exist. The objective of this research was to develop and test a sensor-based system for real-time leachate and irrigation measurement in outdoor commercial nurseries. Sensors were developed to automatically measure irrigation and leachate volume in container nurseries that use overhead irrigation with the goal of facilitating the development of an automated leaching fraction-based irrigation system. Sensors were built using readily available components, including tipping bucket mechanisms calibrated to either 4.7 or 8.2 mL per tip, and were designed and constructed to function with commonly used 3.8-, 11.4-, and 14.5-L nursery containers. Sensor networks were developed in order to collect data from the sensors. Sensors were deployed at three commercial nurseries and tested using closed- and open-loop tests. Initially, a closed-loop test was performed on a subset of the sensors to test the integrity of the sensor-container system when subjected to an overhead irrigation delivery system. Following closed-loop tests, sensors were subjected to tests utilizing directed applications of water to compare sensor measurements with the volume of water applied and to compare sensor measurements over time (pre- and post-season). There was no difference between leachate measured by sensors and leachate captured and measured manually in closed-loop tests (p = 0.0570). In directed applications, sensors measured water flow with less than 3% margin at the beginning of the season (p <= 0.0485) and less than 10% margin at the end of the season (p <= 0.0390) regardless of container size. Pre- and post-season comparisons showed equivalence at the 10% margin for the 4.7-mL tipping bucket size (p = 0.0043) and at 5% for those calibrated to 8.2 mL per tip (p = 0.0198). Sensors deployed in commercial nurseries accurately measured leachate and irrigation within a 10% margin in real-time, on an individual plant scale, making them a viable option for a leaching fraction-based irrigation schedule.

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