Feb. 18, 2011, Wageningen, the Netherlands – Sensors and decision-support software can help horticultural growers reduce water consumption by 60 per cent and use 30 per cent less fertilizer without sacrificing yield and quality. Cultivation also becomes more sustainable.
These are among the results of the three-year European FLOW-AID project coordinated by Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture. The project involved scientists and developers from eight countries.
Water is a major issue in horticulture, and limiting its consumption is a vital part of sustainable production. In Europe, for example, growers will soon be faced with the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) that contains strict environmental regulations related to the efficient use of fertilizers. While semi-arid regions of southern Europe have more issues with the effects of water shortages, growers in the Netherlands will primarily have to deal with fertilizer leaching restrictions.
Within the FLOW-AID project, the 10 partners co-operated to develop and improve technologies for more precise irrigation and fertilization, yielding higher water use efficiency and a reduction in nutrient leaching.
There are many opportunities to increase yields by changing crop production systems and the way water and fertilizers are applied. In the FLOW-AID project, scientists from research institutes and industry developed new water technologies and concepts. By using advanced sensors, innovative data transport, computer models, and adapted crop production systems, it is possible to achieve more efficient irrigation and reduce the use of fertilizers. Decision-support models are used to support growers. The project also evaluated irrigation techniques that use nutrient-rich, purified wastewater as irrigation water for horticulture. This would be of particular interest to areas where water is scarce, such as in the Mediterranean region.
The new techniques were tested in six case studies on eggplant, tomato, cucumber, lettuce and container ornamental plants in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. The research showed that, depending on the local situation, fresh water savings of up to 60 per cent and fertilizer savings up to 30 per cent can be achieved without affecting yields or quality.
The FLOW-AID project has now been concluded and the results have been presented to the European Commission.