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Open access

Shivani Kathi, Catherine Simpson, Alinna Umphres, and Greta Schuster

In arid and semi-arid climates, water scarcity and nutrient availability are major constraints for food production. Excess fertilization to make up for the limited nutrient availability in dry soils leads to nitrogen runoff and groundwater contamination. Reducing nitrogen leaching into surface water while providing adequate nutrition remains a major challenge. Superabsorbent polymers (SAPs) can reduce water loss and improve nutrient retention and therefore minimize leaching and increase crop yields. SAPs are made from petroleum or natural products, but plant-based SAPs have been gaining popularity because they have fewer long-term effects on the environment. However, there is little known about how SAPs made from cornstarch effect plant growth and production in tomatoes. So, we evaluated total nitrogen and water retention in SAP-treated soils and evaluated their effects on growth and development of tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum). Soils were amended with different rates of cornstarch-based SAP (i.e., 0 kg SAP, 0 kg SAP+N, 0.5 kg SAP+N, 1 kg SAP+N, 1.5 kg SAP+N, and 2 kg SAP+N). Results indicate that the mean volume of water and nitrates retained in the soils amended with cornstarch-based SAPs increased with increasing rate of SAP. The treatment containing the highest dose (i.e., 2 kg SAP) decreased the amount of leachate and nitrates from soil 79.34% and 93.11% at 3 days after fertilization (DAF) and 78.84% and 81.58% at 9 DAF in comparison with the soil-only and fertilizer-only treatments, respectively. The results also indicate cornstarch-based SAP significantly improved plant growth and yield parameters compared with the treatments without SAP. Furthermore, the greatest number of leaves, flowers, fruits, and dry matter production were found in the 1-kg SAP treatment. Therefore, application of cornstarch-based SAPs can improve tomato production in times of drought stress by retaining more water and nutrients in the active rooting zone and can reduce environmental pollution by reducing nitrogen runoff.

Open access

Osama Mohawesh, Ammar Albalasmeh, Sanjit Deb, Sukhbir Singh, Catherine Simpson, Nour AlKafaween, and Atif Mahadeen

Colored shading nets have been increasingly studied in semi-arid crop production systems, primarily because of their ability to reduce solar radiation with the attendant reductions in air, plant, and soil temperatures. However, there is a paucity of research concerning the impact of colored shading nets on various crops grown under semi-arid environments, particularly the sweet pepper (Capsicum annum) production system. This study aimed to investigate the effects of three colored shading net treatments (i.e., white, green, and black shading nets with 50% shading intensity and control with unshaded conditions) on the growth and instantaneous water use efficiency (WUE) of sweet pepper. The results showed that all colored shading nets exhibited significantly lower daytime air temperatures and light intensity (22 to 28 °C and 9992 lx, respectively) compared with the control (32 to 37 °C and 24,973 lx, respectively). There were significant differences in sweet pepper growth performance among treatments, including plant height, shoot dry weight, leaf area, leaf chlorophyll content, and vitamin C in ripened fruit. The enhanced photosynthetic rates were observed in sweet pepper plants under the colored shading nets compared with control plants. WUE increased among the colored shading net treatments in the following order: control ≤ white < black < green. Overall, the application of green and black shading nets to sweet pepper production systems under semi-arid environments significantly enhanced plant growth responses and WUE.