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Gregory S. Hendricks, Sanjay Shukla, Kent E. Cushman, Thomas A. Obreza, Fritz M. Roka, Kenneth M. Portier and Eugene J. McAvoy

Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) production is concentrated in southern Florida where growers often use seepage irrigation. According to a recent survey, growers believe that nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) rates recommended by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF-IFAS) are low. A study was conducted during Spring 2004 and 2005 at a UF-IFAS research farm to compare three nutrient and water management systems: high rate [HR (265, 74, and 381 lb/acre N, P, and K, respectively)], recommended rate [RR (150, 44, and 125 lb/acre N, P, and K, respectively)], and recommended rate with subsurface irrigation (RR-S). Irrigation was managed to keep soil moisture content at 16% to 20% for HR and 8% to 12% for RR and RR-S. The experimental design was a randomized complete block design with two replications and three subsample areas within each 0.25-acre plot. The HR management approach produced ≈60% to 80% higher yields (cwt/acre) during 2005 than RR or RR-S. The HR treatment produced larger watermelons than RR or RR-S in 2005. Triploid watermelon prices had to be at least $3.74/cwt to cover all costs associated with HR. The HR approach increased the grower net returns by $590/acre and $1764/acre under conservative and higher yield and price expectations, respectively. Soluble solids content and hollowheart ratings were unaffected by treatment. Total biomass, recorded during 2005, followed a similar trend as yield, with HR producing 105% and 125% greater total dry weight than RR and RR-S, respectively. Total N content of HR biomass was 56% higher than that of RR and RR-S. Total P content was 29% and 50% higher than that of RR and RR-S, respectively. Leaf and petiole tissue from the HR treatment exhibited consistently higher N and K leaf tissue values during 2005 than RR and RR-S. In conclusion, trends in the data consistently showed greater plant performance with higher rates of fertilizer and soil moisture content. Our ability to detect differences in 2005 was probably enhanced by higher rainfall during 2005 compared with 2004.