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Rolston St. Hilaire, Theodore W. Sammis, and John G. Mexal

We integrated the construction and operation of hoop houses into a general education course to provide students with basic agriculture skills such as basic agricultural construction, greenhouse crop production, and greenhouse environmental data collection, while immersing them in an experiential learning environment. Students in the class constructed three 12 × 15-ft hoop houses, installed an irrigation system and climate data acquisition system, and grew radish (Raphanus sativus ‘Cherry Belle’) and lettuce (Lactuca sativa ‘Black-Seeded Simpson’) within each hoop house. At the end of the exercise, 86% of students agreed that they knew the basic techniques of hoop house construction, and 89% agreed that they understood the practical application of building a hoop house. More instruction on calculating crop fertilizer requirements would benefit students because only 43% of students agreed or strongly agreed that they understood how to compute crop fertilizer requirements. Climate data demonstrated that air temperature within the unvented hoop houses exceeded the optimal growing temperature for lettuce and radish. We conclude that construction and operation of hoop houses provided practical agricultural skills in an experiential learning environment while revealing subject areas that warrant further instruction.

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Jeffery C. Kallestad, Theodore W. Sammis, John G. Mexal, and John White

Optimal pecan (Carya illinoiensis) production in the southwestern United States requires 1.9 to 2.5 m of irrigation per year depending on soil type. For many growers, scheduling flood irrigation is an inexact science. However, with more growers using computers in their businesses, and with soil moisture sensors and computerized data-collection devices becoming more inexpensive and accessible, there is potential to improve irrigation and water use efficiencies. In this project two low-cost soil monitoring instruments were introduced to a group of pecan producers. They were also given instruction on the use of Internet-based irrigation scheduling resources, and assistance in utilizing all of these tools to improve their irrigation scheduling and possibly yield. The objectives were to determine whether the technology would be adopted by the growers and to assess the performance of the sensors at the end of the season. Three out of the five growers in the project indicated they used either the granular matrix (GM) sensors or tensiometer to schedule irrigations, but compared to the climate-based irrigation scheduling model, all growers tended to irrigate later than the model's recommendation. Graphical analysis of time-series soil moisture content measured with the GM sensors showed a decrease in the rate of soil moisture extraction coincident with the model's recommended irrigation dates. These inflection points indicated the depletion of readily available soil moisture in the root zone. The findings support the accuracy of the climate-based model, and suggest that the model may be used to calibrate the sensors. Four of the five growers expressed interest in continued use of the tensiometer, but only one expressed a desire to use the GM sensor in the future. None of the participants expressed interest in using the climate-based irrigation scheduling model.

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Jeffery C. Kallestad, John G. Mexal, Theodore W. Sammis, and Richard Heerema

For farmers to accurately schedule future water delivery for irrigations, a prediction method based on time-series measurements of soil moisture depletion and climate-based indicators of evaporative demand is needed. Yet, numerous reports indicate that field instruments requiring high in-season labor input are not likely to be used by farmers. In New Mexico, pecan (Carya illinoensis) farmers in the Mesilla Valley have been reluctant to adopt new soil-based or climate-based irrigation scheduling technologies. In response to low adoption rates, we have developed a simple, practical irrigation scheduling tool specifically for flood-irrigated pecan production. The information presented in the tool was derived using 14 years of archived climate data and model-simulated consumptive water use. Using this device, farmers can estimate the time interval between their previous and the next irrigation for any date in the growing season, in a range of representative soil types. An accompanying metric for extending irrigation intervals based on field-scale rainfall accumulation was also developed. In modeled simulations, irrigations scheduled with the tool while using the rainfall rule were within 3 days of the model-predicted irrigation dates in silty clay loam and loam soil, and less than 2 days in sandy loam and sand soil. The simulations also indicated that irrigations scheduled with the tool resulted in less than 1% reduction in maximum annual consumptive water use, and the overall averaged soil moisture depletion was 45.14% with an 18.1% cv, relative to a target management allowable depletion of 45%. Our long-term objective is that farmers using this tool will better understand the relationships between seasonal climate variation and irrigation scheduling, and will seek real-time evapotranspiration information currently available from local internet resources.

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Rolston St. Hilaire, Cathleen F. Feser, Theodore W. Sammis, and Anderson S. St. Hilaire

Accurate measurement of evapotranspiration (ET) is difficult and expensive for large, in-ground container (pot-in-pot) plants. We engineered and used a simple and inexpensive system to determine evapotranspiration of in-ground container trees. The system was shop-assembled and used a block and tackle system attached to a collapsible tripod. A unique container harness system attached to the block and tackle system was used to lift containers that were sunken in the ground. Containers were weighed with a battery-operated balance that was accurate to 1 g (0.04 oz) at its maximum load capacity of 60 kg (132.3 lb). One person operated the system, and the weight of the system exclusive of the balance was 17.5 kg (38.50 lb). Gravimetric water use data obtained with the system werecombined with meteorological data to compute crop coefficients (Kc) of mexican elder (Sambucus mexicana). The system detected small changes in daily water use of mexican elder trees grown in 76-L (20-gal) in-ground containers. Crop coefficients ranged from 0.17 to 0.71. The acquisition of evapotranspiration data from relatively large, containerized landscape plants may be facilitated because the system is simple, inexpensive, and accurate.

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Sanjit K. Deb, Parmodh Sharma, Manoj K. Shukla, Theodore W. Sammis, and Jamshid Ashigh

Salinity responses and salinity-related suppression of budbreak of drip-irrigated pecan [Carya illinoinensis (Wangenh.) K. Koch] seedlings under different irrigation water salinity (ECIRR) levels were investigated in the pot-in-pot system. The 1-year-old pecan seedlings of rootstock ‘Riverside’ grafted with ‘Western Schley’ scions were transplanted in pots filled with sandy loam soil and grown for 2 years under the same amount of irrigation water but four irrigation ECIRR treatment levels consisting of 1.4 dS·m−1 (control), and three qualities of irrigation water obtained by using a solution of calcium chloride (CaCl2) and sodium chloride (NaCl) in a ratio of 2:1 (by weight) to reach the ECIRR levels of 3.5, 5.5, and 7.5 dS·m−1, respectively. The leachate electrical conductivity (ECd) was highly correlated with soil salinity (EC1:1) and was significantly higher when the irrigation ECIRR treatment levels increased from 1.4 (control) to 7.5 dS·m−1. However, both ECd and EC1:1 remained nearly constant within the same irrigation ECIRR treatment level during both years. Increasing salinity in irrigation water, particularly the ECIRR levels of 5.5 and 7.5 dS·m−1, showed significantly low seedling height and stem diameter growth and delayed or even inhibited budbreak in the seedlings. The EC1:1 that inhibited seedling heights, stem diameters, and budbreak was somewhere between 0.89 and 2.71 dS·m−1 (or ECIRR between 1.4 and 3.5 dS·m−1 and ECd between 2.10 and 4.86 dS·m−1), providing that soil water content was not a limiting factor in the root zone and irrigation water was uniformly distributed in the confined root zone to obtain uniform salt leaching. The visual symptoms of leaf scorch for irrigation ECIRR levels of 3.5, 5.5, and 7.5 dS·m−1 also indicated that somewhere between 0.89 and 2.71 dS·m−1 of the EC1:1, salt injury started to occur. Increasing salinity in irrigation water significantly increased chloride (Cl) accumulation but reduced nitrogen (N) content in the scorched leaves, particularly under the irrigation ECIRR levels of 5.5 and 7.5 dS·m−1. Leaf scorch symptoms in pecan seedlings were likely associated with Cl toxicity. No pecan seedlings under the irrigation ECIRR treatment levels of 5.5 and 7.5 dS·m−1 survived to the end of the 2-year growing period. Thus, threshold EC1:1 was somewhere between 0.89 and 2.71 dS·m−1 beyond which plant injury increases with increasing EC1:1 threatening the survival of pecan seedlings.