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Thomas G. Bottoms, Timothy K. Hartz, Michael D. Cahn and Barry F. Farrara

The impact of strawberry production on nitrate contamination of groundwater is of major concern in the central coast region of California. Nitrogen (N) fertilization and irrigation management practices were monitored in a total of 26 fall-planted annual strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa Duch.) fields in 2010 and 2011. Soil mineral N (SMN, top 30 cm depth) was determined monthly. Irrigation applied was monitored, and crop evapotranspiration (ETc) was estimated. Growers were surveyed regarding their N fertilization practices. Aboveground biomass N accumulation was estimated by monthly plant sampling in seven fields. The effect of preplant controlled-release fertilizer (CRF) rate on fruit yield was investigated in three fields. The growers’ CRF application rate (121 or 86 kg·ha−1 N as 18N–3.5P–10.8K, 7- to 9-month release rating) was compared with a half rate (all fields) and no CRF in one field. The rate of N release from this CRF product was evaluated using a buried bag technique. Median CRF N and total seasonal N application (CRF + in-season fertigation through drip irrigation) were 101 and 260 kg·ha−1, respectively, with total seasonal N application varying among fields from 141 to 485 kg·ha−1. Biomass N accumulation was slow through March (less than 25 kg·ha−1) and then increased by ≈1.1 kg·ha−1·d−1 from April through mid-September. Mean seasonal biomass N accumulation was estimated at 225 kg·ha−1 by 15 Sept. Approximately 70% of CRF N was released before 1 Apr. Biomass N accumulation between planting and April was much lower than the combined amount of CRF N release and SMN decline over that period, suggesting substantial winter N loss. Conversely, N loss during the summer harvest season (May through August) appeared limited in most fields. Median SMN was maintained below 10 mg·kg−1, and median irrigation was 113% of estimated ETc during this period. Reduction in CRF rate did not affect marketable fruit yield in two of three trials; an 8% yield reduction was observed in the remaining trial when the CRF rate was reduced, but the decline may have been affected by spring irrigation and fertigation practices.

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Lee F. Johnson, Michael Cahn, Frank Martin, Forrest Melton, Sharon Benzen, Barry Farrara and Kirk Post

Estimation of crop evapotranspiration supports efficient irrigation water management, which in turn supports water conservation, mitigation of groundwater depletion/degradation, energy savings, and crop quality maintenance. Past research in California has revealed strong relationships between fraction of the ground covered by photosynthetically active vegetation (Fc), crop coefficients (Kc), and evapotranspiration (ET) of cool-season vegetables and other specialty crops. Replicated irrigation trials for iceberg lettuce and broccoli were performed during 2012 and 2013 at the USDA Agricultural Research Station in Salinas, CA. The main objective was to compare crop yield and quality from ET-based irrigation scheduling with industry standard practice. Sprinkler irrigation was used to germinate and establish the crops, followed by surface drip irrigation during the treatment period. Each experiment compared three irrigation treatment schedules replicated five times in a randomized block design. Two decision-support models were evaluated as follows: 1) an FAO-56-based algorithm embedded in NASA’s prototype Satellite Information Management System (SIMS) based on observed Fc, and 2) CropManage (CM), an online database-driven irrigation scheduling tool based on modeled Fc. Both methods used daily reference ETo data from the California Irrigation Management Irrigation System (CIMIS) to translate Kc to crop ET, with a target of 100% replacement of water use during the drip irrigation phase. A third treatment followed an irrigation schedule representing grower standard practice (SP) at 150% to 175% ET replacement during the drip irrigation phase. No significant treatment differences were seen in lettuce head weight or total biomass. Marketable yields of lettuce (near 45.4 Mg·ha−1) and broccoli (near 17.4 Mg·ha−1) were in-line with industry averages during both years and all treatments. During 2012, CM yield was below lettuce SP, and above broccoli SP, while in 2013 no treatment differences were detected for either crop. No significant differences were detected between SIMS and SP yields during any trial.