Subirrigation has the potential to increase the irrigation efficiency in greenhouse potted production, due to the recirculation of NS, reduction in water loss and chemical leaching, and less environmental contamination caused by the improper disposal of nutrients and pesticides (Montesano et al., 2010). This system can increase crop production through the higher water and fertilizer use efficiency, resulting in higher plant uniformity and anticipating the growth time (Dumroese et al., 2006). Subirrigation also maintains the substrate in an adequate moisture content without interfering in air and nutrients availability to the crop (Schmal et al., 2011). Ebb-and-flow systems can be fully automated to both monitor soil moisture and control irrigation based on plant water use (Ferrarezi and van Iersel, 2011), providing adequate water and nutrient supply without affecting fertilizer availability (Andriolo et al., 2001). Furthermore, subirrigation presents lower risk of pathogens spread and higher effectiveness of pesticides application when compared with other open-cycle systems (van Iersel et al., 2001).
However, subirrigation may present drawbacks for growers, such as high initial investment cost and a lack of established crop management guidelines. To reduce the cost and increase the availability of appropriate information concerning subirrigation, it is necessary to expand the demand for this type of system with the construction and dissemination of new equipment.
The use of subirrigation in greenhouse production is nearly nonexistent in Brazil because of the unavailability of equipment and technical information needed to guide the growers regarding commercial applications. Thus, handcrafted systems have been manufactured without precise design criteria and applied empirically. Therefore, the characterization of these systems operating in commercial production would increase the information about the quality and efficiency of handcrafted systems, stimulate system employment, guide new equipment designs, and thus allow equipment manufacturers and producers of seedlings and plants in conic containers to benefit from subirrigation. The knowledge will help to develop specific engineering design criteria to ensure adequate efficiency and address the needs for containerized production.
Our objectives were to evaluate the performance and to determine the efficiency parameters of an automated subirrigation system in a commercial greenhouse facility for clonal eucalyptus seedling production to improve subirrigation management practices.
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