Eggplant, also known as aubergine and brinjal, is widely grown and consumed in southern and southeast Asia and has increased in popularity in the United States as a specialty vegetable. In 2001, U.S. eggplant production was valued at $42.5 million, and Georgia, Florida, California, New Jersey, and New York were the top five producers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has not collected complete domestic production statistics for eggplants since 2001. In 2012, farm gate value in the state of Georgia was $17 million (CAED, 2013). Average eggplant yield in Florida is ≈30 t·ha−1 (Ozores-Hampton, 2014).
Eggplant is in the Solanaceae family, as are tomato (Solanum lycopersicon) and pepper (Capsicum annum) and shares similar environmental and cultural requirements as those crops. However, in contrast to tomato and pepper, eggplant crop can tolerate greater levels of drought stress (Behboudian, 1977). There are several studies on eggplant irrigation carried out in Asia, Africa, and Europe (Aujla et al., 2007; Behboudian, 1977; Chartzoulakis and Drosos, 1995; Gaveh et al., 2011; Karam et al., 2011) showing that eggplant can be produced at moderate levels of drought stress without major impact on fruit yield.
In southeastern United States, eggplant is often produced with high levels of irrigation water (above the rate of ETc) and N fertilizer, resulting in water waste and N leaching. Excessive irrigation rate not only wastes water, but may also result in reduced yields in bell pepper (Díaz-Pérez et al., 2004; Sezen et al., 2006) and tomato (Locascio et al., 1989; Ngouajio et al., 2007). To our knowledge, there are no published studies in the United States on the effect of irrigation rate on the yield and plant growth of drip-irrigated eggplants. Irrigation studies, intended to optimize use of irrigation water, are necessary to enable the protection of water resources in the United States. Therefore, the objective of this research was to assess the effects of irrigation rate on plant growth and fruit yield in eggplant.
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