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  • Author or Editor: Sanjay Shukla x
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Florida is one of the leading states in the United States in watermelon production, and on-farm management of nutrients and water is an important issue in the state. A management strategy using higher-than-recommended rates was compared to two strategies using recommended rates. A systems approach was used to define treatments: (HR) high rate of 265 pounds per acre (lb/ac) N, 170 lb/ac P2O5, 459 lb/ac K2O, and soil moisture content of 16% to 20% via seepage irrigation, (RR) recommended rate of 150 lb/ac N, 100 lb/ac P2O5, 150 lb/ac K2O, and soil moisture content of 8% to 12% via seepage irrigation, and (RR-S) equal to RR but irrigation provided by subsurface drip tubing. Large quarter-acre plots were used for each experimental unit. `Tri-X 313' was interplanted with `Mardi Gras' during Spring 2004 and with `SP-1' during Spring 2005 in a RCB design with two replications at the SWFREC in Immokalee. Leaf tissue analyses, petiole sap, and biomass accumulation were recorded each season. Watermelons were harvested at least twice each year and fruit were counted and weighed individually from three subplots within each plot. At least five fruit from each subplot were cut open for internal evaluation. Leaf nitrogen and potassium content for HR was consistently greater than that of RR or RR-S. Yields of HR were 41% to 50% greater than the two RR treatments. Yield was 1089, 704, and 775 hundred-pound units per acre (cwt/ac) in 2004 and 801, 541, and 533 cwt/ac in 2005 for HR, RR, and RR-S, respectively. Soluble solids content and hollowheart incidence were not affected by treatment. Our results indicate HR was more productive than RR or RR-S and may justify the higher inputs associated with this management strategy.

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Florida tomato growers generate about $600 million of annual farm gate sales. The Florida Vegetable and Agronomic Crop Water Quality/Quantity Best Management Practices Manual was adopted by rule in the Florida Administrative Code in 2006 and describes cultural practices available to tomato growers that have the potential to improve water quality. By definition, BMPs are specific cultural practices that are proven to optimize yield while minimizing pollution. BMPs must be technically feasible, economically viable, socially acceptable, and based on sound science. The BMP manual for vegetables endorses UF-IFAS recommendations, including those for fertilization and irrigation. Current statewide N fertilizer recommendations for tomato provide for a base rate of 224 kg/ha plus provisions for supplemental fertilizer applications 1) after a leaching rain, 2) under extended harvest season, and 3) when plant nutrient levels (leaf or petiole) fall below the sufficiency range. An on-farm project in seven commercial fields was conducted in 2004 under cool and dry growing conditions, to compare grower practices (ranging from 264 to 468 kg/ha of N) to the recommended rate. Early and total extra-large yields tended to be higher with growers' rate than with the recommended rate, but these differences were significant only in one trial. The first-year results illustrated the need for recommendations to be tested for several years and to provide flexibility to account for the reality of local growing conditions. Working one-on-one with commercial growers provided an opportunity to focus on each farm`s educational needs and to identify specific improvements in nutrient and irrigation management.

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About 10,000 ha of staked tomato are grown each year in the winter–spring season in southwest Florida. Tomatoes are produced with transplants, raised beds, polyethylene mulch, drip or seepage irrigation, and intensive fertilization. With the development of nutrient best management practices (BMPs) for vegetable crops and increased competition among water users, N recommendations must ensure economical yields, but still minimize the environmental impact of tomato production. The current University of Florida–IFAS (UF–IFAS) N fertilization rate of 224 kg·ha-1 (with supplemental fertilizer applications under specified conditions) may require adjustment based on soil type and irrigation system. Because growers should be involved in the development and implementation of BMPs, this project established partnerships with southwest Florida tomato growers. Studies evaluated the effects of N application rates on yield, plant growth, petiole N sap, pests, and diseases. Nine on-farm trials were conducted during the dry winter 2004–05 season. Treatments consisted of N fertilizer rates ranging from 224 to 448 kg·ha-1, with each trial including at least the UF–IFAS rate and the traditional rate. Although total yields were comparable among N rates, there were differences in size category. Nitrogen rates had little effect on tomato biomass 30 and 60 days after transplanting. Changes in petiole sap NO3-N and K concentrations were different between seepage and drip irrigation, but usually above the sufficiency threshold. It is important to consider the type of irrigation when managing tomato and determining optimum N fertilizer rates.

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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.

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