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Eric Simonne*, John Duval, and David Studstill

Visualizing the effect of irrigation volume on water movement in and below the root zone of strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa) plants may be used to determine when to split irrigation. By injecting blue dye (Terramark SPI High Concentrate) during controlled irrigation events with several drip tapes commonly used by area growers, the objectives of this project were to: (1) determine vertical, lateral and longitudinal movements of wetted zones applied by drip irrigation on a Seffner fine sand soil; (2) describe the shape of the wetted zone for increasing irrigation volumes; and (3) determine the irrigation after which water moves below the root zone. Dye tests consisted in preparing mulched beds with different drip tapes (7 total), injecting dye, irrigating with the selected volume of water (V), digging longitudinal and transverse sections of the raised beds, and taking measurements of vertical (depth; D), lateral (width; W) and longitudinal (L) water movement. Increasing V from 279 to 3353 L/100 m, significantly increased D, W and L. Depth and W responses to V were D = 0.19 V + 26.1 (R 2 = 0.80), and W = 0.36 V + 13.5 (R 2 = 0.78). Emitter-to-emitter coverage occurred after 4 hours for 30-cm spacing. Based on expected root depths of 20 cm when the strawberry plants are young and 30 cm when they are fully grown, largest V before water moved below the root zone were 325 and 870 L/100 m, which corresponds to typical irrigation times of 1 and 3 hours, respectively. Greater irrigation volumes may reduce water use efficiency and increase the risk of nutrient leaching below the root zone.

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Michela Farneselli, David W. Studstill, Eric H. Simonne, and Bob Hochmuth

The quantitative assessment of nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) leaching below the root zone of vegetable crops grown with plasticulture (called load) may be done using deep (150-cm) soil samples divided into five 30-cm long subsamples. The load is then calculated by multiplying the NO3-N concentration in each subsample by the volume of soil (width × length × depth, W × L × D) wetted by the drip tape. Length (total length of mulched bed per unit surface) and depth (length of the soil subsample) are well known, but W is not. In order to determine W at different depths, two dye tests were conducted on a 7-m deep Lakeland fine sand using standard plasticulture beds. Dye tests consisted in irrigating for up to 38 and 60 hours (11,756 and 18,562 L/100 m of irrigation, respectively), digging transverse sections of the raised beds at set times and taking measurements of D and W at every 30-cm. Most dye patterns were elliptic elongated. Maximum average depths were similar (118 and 119 cm) for both tests despite differences in irrigation duration and physical proximity of both tests (100 m apart in the same field). Overall, D response (cm, both tests combined) to irrigation volume (V) was quadratic (Dcomb.avg = –2 × 10–7V2 + 0.008V + 34), and W responses (applying maximum and average values, Wmax and Wmean) to D (cm) were linear (Wmax = –0.65D+114: Wmean = –0.42D + 79). Predicted Wmax were 104, 84, 64, 44, and 25 cm at 30-cm depth increments. These preliminary values may be use for load calculations, but are likely to over-estimate load as they were determined without transpiring plants and may need to be adjusted for different soil types.

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David Studstill, Michela Farneselli, Eric Simonne, and Bob Hochmuth

Petiole sap testing using ion-specific electrodes is a simple method that can be used to guide in-season applications of N and K to vegetable crops. This method requires petiole sampling and sap extraction using a sap press. Because some vegetables are grown with foliar applications of N and/or K and because some crops have large petioles, petioles may need to be washed and/or cut before being pressed. Because limited information is available on the effect of washing/cutting on sap testing results, muskmelon, bell pepper and tomato petioles were used to test if washing/cutting reduced NO3-N and K concentrations and changed the subsequent interpretation of plant nutritional status. Washing for 30, 60, or 120 seconds in distilled water and cutting petioles before or after washing significantly reduced sap concentrations (p = 0.01 and p = 0.04 for NO3-N and K, respectively) in 7 of 12 tests when compared to the control method (petioles cut and not washed). The average concentration reductions between the control and the lowest value among all the washing/cutting treatments were 30% for NO3-N and 19% for K. These losses due to washing/cutting are likely to change the diagnosis of nutritional status from “sufficient” to “less than sufficient” and therefore may suggest the need for unnecessary fertilizer applications.

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Eric Simonne, David Studstill, Robert Hochmuth, Justin Jones, and Cynthia Stewart

The Federal Clear Water Act and Florida legislation have mandated the clean-up of impaired water bodies. The BMP manual for vegetable crops lists the cultural practices that could maintain productivity while minimizing environmental impact. BMPs focus on increased fertilizer and irrigation efficiency, but growers must be involved in the demonstration and adoption process if this voluntary program is to be successful. Three commercial vegetable fields from farms recognized as leaders in fertilizer and irrigation management were selected to demonstrate how irrigation and fertilizer management are linked together and how management may prevent water movement below the root zone of melons grown with plasticulture. In Spring 2004, dye (Brilliant blue FCF) was injected into the irrigation water three times during the growing season and soil profiles were dug to determine the depth of dye movement. Similar results were found at all three locations as the dye moved below at an average rate of 1.9 to 3.6 cm per day. Water movement was greater early in the season as irrigation was applied for transplant establishment. These results suggest that some leaching is likely to occur on light-textured soils, even when sophisticated irrigation and fertilization practices are followed. Based on these observations, cooperators spontaneously proposed to use two drip tapes, reduce preplant fertilizer, use a 100% injected N/K program, and/or add organic matter to the soil as attempts to slow water movement below the root zone of their crops. This project shows that growers are more likely to try and adopt sustainable practices when they actively participate in the educational process than when production changes are mandated through legislation.

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Aparna Gazula, Eric Simonne, Michael Dukes, George Hochmuth, Bob Hochmuth, and David Studstill

Collecting leachate from lysimeters installed in the field below vegetable fields may be used to quantify the amount of nitrogen released into the environment. Because limited information exists on the optimal design type and on the effect of design components on lysimeter performance, the objective of this study were to identify existing designs and their limits, assess cost of design, and test selected designs. Ideally, lysimeters should be wide enough to collect all the water draining, long enough to reflect the plant-to-plant variability, durable enough to resist degradation, deep enough to allow for cultural practices and prevent root intrusion, have a simple design, be made of widely available materials, and be cost-effective. Also, lysimeters should not restrict gravity flow thereby resulting in a perched water table. Previous study done with a group of free-drainage lysimeters (1-m-long, 45-cm-wide, installed 45-cm-deep) under a tomato-pumpkin-rye cropping sequence resulted in variable frequency of collection and volume of leachate collected (CV of load = 170%). Improving existing design may be done by increasing the length of collection, lining the lysimeter with gravel, limiting the depth of installation, and/or breaking water tension with a fiberglass wick. Individual lysimeter cost was estimated between $56 to $84 and required 9 to 14 manhours. for construction and installation. Costs on labor may be reduced when large numbers of lysimeters are built. Labor needed for sampling 24 lysimeters was 8 man-hr/sampling date. Because load may occur after a crop, lysimeter monitoring and sampling should be done year round.