Water quantity and quality are major issues for food production. About three billion people are predicted to live in water-stressed or water-scarce environments by 2025 (Hanjra and Qureshi, 2010). Agricultural crop production systems are one of the largest consumers of water (Frija et al., 2009), accounting for nearly 80% of total global water use (Molden et al., 2007). The imperative need to provide food for a growing global population has resulted in increased interest in production systems that maximize water use and plant yield and quality. In protected agriculture, greenhouse-grown, soil-cultivated plants may produce high quality and yields; however, due to current irrigation practices, and subsequent runoff and infiltration, the water use efficiency (WUE) may be low (Putra and Yuliando, 2015), which may pose a threat to the environment. Greenhouse production systems have been suggested to be highly correlated with WUE (Frija et al., 2009), as similar yields have been achieved using 50% to 100% less water when plants are cultivated using soilless media systems, when compared with “conventional” soil-grown plants (Putra and Yuliando, 2015).
Closed irrigation systems are of particular interest when compared with conventional open irrigation systems as they have been demonstrated to reduce nutrient loss and increase WUE and NUE in greenhouse crop production systems (Ahmed et al., 2000; Putra and Yuliando, 2015; Rouphael and Colla, 2005; Rouphael et al., 2004; Siddiqi et al., 1998; van Os, 1999). Among closed irrigation systems, subirrigation with nutrient and water recirculation is an excellent method to enhance plant production, quality, yield, and potentially the profitability of important cultivated plants (Cardarelli et al., 2010; Fascella and Rouphael, 2015; Rouphael et al., 2006; Santamaria et al., 2003; Uva et al., 2001).
Nonetheless, subirrigation of greenhouse crops is mainly used for the cultivation of containerized ornamental plants. It has been demonstrated that subirrigated ornamental plants have increased growth, and decreased water (van Os, 1999) and nutrient use (Blessington-Haley and Reed, 2004; Zheng et al., 2004). However, there is limited information available on using subirrigation systems for the production of vegetable species (Santamaria et al., 2003).
Subirrigation systems may enhance vegetable crop production; however, vegetable crops may have a longer cultivation time, higher growth rate, and higher nutrient and water demands, when compared with containerized ornamental plants (Rouphael and Colla, 2005; Santamaria et al., 2003). Successful subirrigation of vegetable crops may need the use of containers of larger volume due to the higher biomass and longer cultivation period associated with these crops when compared with ornamental species. Therefore, irrigation solution depth and duration of flooding have to be determined to achieve optimum wetting of the substrate and nutrient distribution as they depend on the medium and container size used. The objective of the present study was to assess the feasibility of using a subirrigation system in the production of containerized bell pepper plants by measuring the effects of flooding depth and duration on growth, yield, and mineral composition.
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