Automation can improve irrigation efficiency, but automation needs both hardware and software to do so. Many soil-moisture-sensor-based systems use hardware to measure and track substrate moisture levels and specialized software to display data, interact with the sensor network and irrigation system, and help the grower determine how much moisture plants need at any given point in time. Complete automation packages that combine the requisite hardware and software with control capabilities are only just beginning to become available. Recent experiments using sensor-based irrigation technology have shown that irrigation decisions made using these control systems saved water and, in some cases, reduced disease losses and improved plant growth (Belayneh et al., 2013; Chappell et al., 2013; Nemali and van Iersel, 2006). Water-saving strategies are becoming more common in ornamental operations, and improvements in irrigation efficiency are likely to become increasingly important as rainfall patterns become increasingly unpredictable and competition with cities for limited freshwater resources promise to drive up the cost of water and limit its availability (Majsztrik et al., 2011). Reductions in shrinkage (plant death) and production time can increase profitability substantially by allowing growers to sell more plants with the same amount of production area in a given amount of time (Lichtenberg et al., 2013). Improvements in irrigation efficiency can also have important environmental benefits, some of which can translate into substantial cost savings as environmental regulations become more strict (Belayneh et al., 2013; Chappell et al., 2013; Majsztrik et al., 2013).
There are a number of companies currently offering different types of wireless sensor systems, each with its own strengths and limitations, including Toro (Azusa, CA), Freelink (Ottawa, ON, Canada), and UgMO (King of Prussia, PA). Decagon Devices (Pullman, WA) is the only commercial system we are aware of that can be used for irrigation control of container-grown ornamental plants. A coordinated multistate project using Decagon Devices components, funded in 2009, has advanced both hardware and software to the point where these systems can feasibly be implemented at ornamental operations, including a series of experiments on wireless sensor networks (Kohanbash et al., 2013; Lea-Cox, 2012; Lea-Cox and Belayneh, 2012; Lea-Cox et al., 2010, 2013). These experiments have used tests in research plots and ornamental growing operations to answer questions about sensor placement, accuracy, and robustness, while developing user-friendly hardware and software.
Advances achieved through these experiments have placed this technology on the threshold of commercialization; therefore, current perceptions are important determinants of initial acceptance and adoption by growers. To gain a better understanding of ornamental grower practices and perceptions, we conducted a national survey to collect information on a number of topics including current perceptions of wireless sensor systems. This article focuses on grower perceptions of a range of potential benefits that have been found in experimental and operational test systems as well as deterrents to adoption. We also examine the extent to which those perceptions differ systematically according to operation size, financial status, and composition as it related to location and water sources in the United States.
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Chappell, M., Dove, S.K., van Iersel, M.W., Thomas, P.A. & Ruter, J. 2013 Implementation of wireless sensor networks for irrigation control in three container nurseries HortTechnology 23 747 753
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