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Paolo Sambo*, Daniele Borsato and Giorgio Gianquinto

Research at Padova Univ., Italy, during Summer 2003, was carried out to determine the effect on nitrogen fertilization on yield and canopy reflectance of sweet bell pepper (Capsicum annuum). Pepper var. Tolomeo LRP 4993 (Syngenta) was transplanted into plots (24 m2) on 20 May, maintaining 40 cm between plants and 75 cm between rows (3.3 plant per m2). The experimental design was a randomized block with four replicates. Treatments were 6 nitrogen fertilization rates ranging from 0 to 300 kg·ha-1. Nitrogen was distributed at planting and as top dressing, 44 days after planting. All other production techniques were typical of pepper production in the Veneto region. Beginning the second week after transplanting, canopy reflectance was measured weekly using a multispectral radiometer MSR 87 (Cropscan Rochester, Minn.). Fruits were harvested at breaking color stage starting from 21 July to 9 Oct. (8 harvests). At harvest, total and marketable yield, fruit averaged weight and nitrogen content were determined. Maximum yield was recorded at the 120 kg·ha-1 nitrogen treatment, while higher rates proved ineffective at increasing production. Nitrogen rates positively affected fruit weight. The nitrate content of fruits also increased with the nitrogen rates although it remained below the level dangerous for human health. Canopy reflectance was able to detect the different nitrogen treatments only during the late stages of the growth cycle making difficult its use as a tool to drive nitrogen fertilization.

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Paolo Sambo, Mike R. Evans and Giorgio Gianquinto

One of the most widely used substrates in nursery production is peat, which is used as plain substrate or mixed with other media. Peat use is problematic, primarily because of the high price and the environmental implications connected with its extraction and disposal. For these reasons, the exploitation will be restricted in the future in both Europe and America. Thus, researchers are under pressure to find alternative substrates that can be used in an inexpensive and environmentally friendly way. Although aged, carbonized and composted rice hulls have been used to a limited extent, more studies are needed to characterize fresh rice hulls as a growing medium. This research was aimed at characterizing fresh hulls after being ground in different particle sizes, and comparing them with peat. Ground hulls were separated into four fractions (6-, 4-, 2-, and 1-mm diameter), which were characterized for pH, EC, CEC, organic matter, and total nitrogen content. The water retention curve was also estimated and the following hydraulic characteristics were measured and compared: TP, CC, AFP, EAW, and WBC. As expected, pH, N, and C content and CEC did not differ among rice hull fractions, while EC showed a slight but constant increase when particle dimensions decreased. Compared to peat, the TP of rice hulls was smaller independently from particle dimensions, but AFP was 19.5%, 44,1%, 114.2%, and 115.8% higher for 1-, 2-, 4-, and 6-mm particles, respectively, indicating a very good aeration capacity. EAW and WBC were higher only in 1- and 2-mm particles. A further experiment aimed at comparing the behavior of transplants in rice hulls (6 mm) and peat showed that tomato plantlets grew slower in the former, although transplants were of good, marketable quality.

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Paolo Sambo, Giorgio Gianquinto and Valente Forte

Several experiments on multispectral radiometer showed its suitability in driving nitrogen fertigation in tomato crop. Nir-Green light ratio describes crop nitrogen status well, highlighting element deficiency or excess, which is a great help to farmers in choosing timing and intensity of fertilizer application. The scientific literature reports several studies about nitrogen management only, but not phosphorus and potassium. Because of the advantage obtained with N, it would be desirable to also adapt it to phosphorus and potassium management. For this purpose, a preliminary trial was carried out on the omato cultivar Brigade grown in pots in a greenhouse. Four nutrient solution were supplied. Three were lacking in N, P, or K—the last had all elements needed for a balanced growth. Radiometer readings were taken once a week during the crop cycle, around noon. First results were encouraging. After some data elaboration, it appeared evident that, in some cases, it was possible to set the fertigation treatments apart by only having a look at the single wavelengths measured by the instrument. Through the Nir/green index, used in N management, phosphorus deficiency was identified as well. Potassium trend line was completely different from those of nitrogen and phosphorus, and very similar to that of the control. The utilization of the radiometer in handling potassium fertigation in tomato appeared somewhat difficult. Its application might be desirable, instead, for phosphorus fertigation in addition to nitrogen. The 560 and 710 nm wavelengths might be the especially more useful for this purpose, although a simple index or a combination of some simple indices able to identify phosphorous deficiency/excess and to screen them from those induced by nitrogen are needed.

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Giorgio Gianquinto, Paolo Sambo, Francesco Orsini, Marco Sciortino and Valente Forte

Technology provides new tools for agriculture to be able to optimize fertilization. Optical instruments are becoming valid tools for farmers in making decisions about fertilization, even though they need to be calibrated for specific crops. Chlorophyll meters and multispectral radiometers have been tested on rice, corn, and wheat and afterwards on vegetables, in timing fertilization. Today, threshold lines that are able to detect crop N status in tomato crops are available. These thresholds, obtained in experiments carried out at Padova University, were validated in three open-field experiments. The first experiment was carried out in 2004 at the University experimental farm on tomato cv. Perfect Peel. The second and third experiments were conducted in a commercial farm at Codigoro (Ferrara) in 2004–2005. Tomato cultivars used were `UGX 822' and `Precocix' in 2004, in 2005 `Jet' was also used. In all trials, a “standard fertilization” management was compared with fertigation guided using SPAD and/or Cropscan. Optical tools were used to manage fertigation adopting both “threshold method” and “reference plot method”. In general “guided fertigation” resulted in less nitrogen application (N supply reduced between 18% and 45%), especially when “threshold method” was adopted. Yields were comparable to “standard fertilization” treatments, showing a better efficiency of “guided fertigation”. In some cases, guiding fertigation by means of optical instruments allowed higher fruit fresh weight, although dry matter content and °Brix were not influenced. Guided fertigation reduced also the number of damaged fruit and the percentage of nonmarketable product.

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Giorgio Gianquinto, Francesco Orsini, Paolo Sambo and Matilde Paino D'Urzo

Dynamic fertilization management is a way of bringing nutrients to the plant when they are crucial for its development. However, destructive measurements of crop nitrogen (N) status are still too costly and time consuming to justify their use, and the implementation of methodologies based on non-destructive, quick, and easy to use tools for plant nutritional status monitoring appears as an appealing opportunity. Several optical tools for plant monitoring have been developed in recent years, and many studies have assessed their ability to discriminate plant N status. Such tools can measure at leaf level (hand-held optical instruments) or may consider the canopy of a plant or few plants (portable radiometers) or even measure areas, such as a field, a farm, or a region (aerial photography). The application of vegetation indices, which combine the readings at different wavelengths, may improve the reliability of the collected data, giving a more precise determination of the plant nutritional status. In this article, we report on the state of the art of the available optical tools for plant N status monitoring.