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Issue No. 566
The Vegetarian Newsletter:
A monthly newsletter featuring timely information on Florida’s vegetable and fruit crops
Making Integrated Pest Management Part of Your Farm Every Day
Multi-County Extension Agent
Have you ever wondered what you could do to get rid of the bugs on your fruits or vegetables without spraying all the time? Well, so have the faculty and staff at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center- Suwannee Valley (NFREC-SV) in Live Oak. To put thoughts into action, the Extension faculty at the Center, on campus and surrounding county Extension offices were able to secure USDA Integrated Pest Management grant funding for a three-year project to transform the research center farm into an integrated battleground against pests. The overall goal of this project is to create a unique, hands-on, whole farm “Living Extension IPM Field Laboratory.” This specialized IPM learning environment will be used to interactively demonstrate how to enhance a farm’s ecosystem for Suwannee Valley crop farmers. The specific objectives are to: 1) Create a field laboratory by transforming an existing traditional research center farm into a model that can be used to teach IPM principles and techniques beyond the classroom, 2) Teach clientele whole farm approaches to adopting IPM systems, and 3) Build a sustainable education infrastructure and networking capacity for future IPM information delivery. We think the demonstrations will be interesting not only to area crop producers, but also to other county Extension Agents, Master Gardeners, students, IPM volunteers, youth, rural land owners and decision makers.
NFREC-SV is a perfect venue for transforming an existing beautiful 330-acre farm into a living, hands-on IPM teaching laboratory. It is well-known for its small farm, hydroponic, alternative enterprise, water and nutrient management Extension programs. The Center has recently developed an exceptional specialty crop demonstration capacity, including a five-acre demonstration fruit crops orchard, a two-acre organic vegetable production area, three demonstration hydroponic greenhouses, one open shade structure, a ten-acre area for drip irrigated vegetable production, two center pivot irrigated areas for vegetables and other specialty crops, thirty acres of forage crops (including specialty forages, such as perennial peanut for ornamental uses), and a small planting of cut flowers and foliages. The farm also has border areas in a hardwood and pine forest and a seven-acre natural spring-fed lake that will serve as key ecological habitats.
Recently, Extension activities at the Center have focused on the development of an outreach program targeting alternative enterprises for small and medium-sized farms. This has been very successful and led to the development of the UF Small Farms Academy (http://nfrec.ufl.edu/smallfarmsacademy). The Academy focuses on business planning, marketing, crop selection and culture, food safety, irrigation, and nutrient management. Workshops have been very popular largely because they have incorporated a substantial hands-on component. Participants ranked IPM as a high priority and want it to be a major component of the Academy. Many Academy participants are new to farming, as evidenced by the 2007 census data showing an 8% increase in the number of farms in Florida from 2002 to 2007. All of this increase was in the small farm category and, in Florida; approximately 90% of all farms are small farms. This escalation of small farms and beginning farmers and ranchers provides an excellent opportunity to expand the Academy by adding a comprehensive Living Extension IPM Field Laboratory. The Laboratory will include but is not limited to: maintaining annual and permanent plantings that attract beneficial organisms and provide year round habitats, demonstrating strategic trap cropping systems, providing beneficial vertebrate habitats (e.g., bat houses, bluebird houses, and chickadee houses), utilizing banker plant systems (especially in greenhouse programs), demonstrating how to increase pollinators, and enhancing the ecological contribution of the lake and surrounding forest. For instance, sunflowers and buckwheat plantings are used to increase pollinators (bees, flies and wasps) and natural enemies in a field and also are good at attracting pests like stink bugs which can then be killed before they attack the crop. Even one more IPM benefit is tall sunflowers provide protection and perching points for insect eating birds. A five acre vegetable planting at the Center this spring has been interplanted with a row of mixed sunflower and buckwheat every 40 feet. This field has been scouted weekly for pests and the integrated approach has resulted in a reduction of 4-5 insecticide applications in just the first two months of the project alone. Stay tuned for the full impact of the newly implemented approach as we build the field laboratory to teach IPM and be on the lookout for upcoming educational programs.
In addition to this hand-on teaching effort at Live Oak, small farmers from across the state will have the opportunity to learn about IPM practices at the 2011 Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference in Kissimmee on July 15-17. Several sessions at this year’s conference will include pest management related presentations from UF Extension faculty, agency technical service providers and participating small farmers. After the conference is completed, the presentations will be available on the UF/FAMU Small Farms web site (http://smallfarms.ifas.ufl.edu).
Green bell pepper yield and water use efficiency under different irrigation scheduling
By: Lincoln Zotarelli, Assistant Professor, UF/IFAS, Horticultural Sciences Department and Michael D. Dukes, Associate Professor, UF/IFAS, Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department.
Florida is the most important center of production and distribution of vegetables in the southeastern U.S. with 181,000 acres planted in 2006 and a crop value greater than $1.2 billion dollars (USDA, 2008). Florida is the top water user in the humid region of the U.S., ranking fourth in withdrawal of ground water for public supply in the United States and ranking seventeenth nationally for agricultural water use (Hutson et al., 2004). In 2005, agriculture accounted for 40% of Florida freshwater withdrawals in the state, totaling almost 2.7 billion gallons per day. About 47% of agricultural freshwater withdraws were ground water. As the largest single water use category in Florida, agriculture has been forced to utilize water more efficiently. Even though the adoption of agricultural practices such as the use of polyethylene-mulch and drip irrigation have became very common for vegetable production, there is still room for improvement regarding the irrigation scheduling of vegetable crops. The use of improved irrigation scheduling techniques using soil moisture sensors to monitor soil moisture and control irrigation events has been shown to greatly increase irrigation water use efficiency. With more efficient water use, fertilizer is also retained in the effective root zone longer and growers can attain maximum yields at lower N-fertilizer application rates. As a result, better irrigation scheduling techniques will not only provide substantial water savings but can also greatly reduce potential N-leaching losses and thus minimize water quality impacts. Field experiments conducted between 2006 and 2008 revealed that the use of soil moisture sensors (SMS) to control irrigation resulted in significant reductions in the volume of irrigation applied (up to 50%) without reduction of marketable pepper yield. Pepper yield increased from 4% to 13% for SMS-based treatments compared to fixed time irrigation typically used by growers. Additional measurements during the field experiment confirmed that precise irrigation management can greatly enhance N-fertilizer retention in the active root zone, reducing water percolation and NO3-N leaching.Fixed irrigation schedules without a realistic evaluation of the actual soil moisture status may result in over-irrigation and N leaching.
Materials and Methods
Evaluation of soil moisture sensor (SMS) irrigation controllers
Between 2006 and 2008, field experiments were carried out at the University of Florida, Plant Science Research and Education Unit, near Citra, FL. The field operations were similar to a commercial vegetable production system. Before transplanting, the area was rototilled and raised beds were constructed with 6 ft between bed centers, the soil was fertilized, fumigated and plastic mulched. Irrigation was applied via drip tape and water applied by irrigation and/or fertigation was recorded by positive displacement flowmeters. Green bell pepper transplants variety “Brigadier” were set in early April of each year. Weekly N application rates, expressed as a percentage of the total N application (N-rate 200 lb ac-1), corresponded to 5.5% at weeks 1, 2 and 13; 7.1% at weeks 3, 4 and 12; and 8.9% at weeks 5-11 (Olson et al., 2005). Pre-plant fertilization corresponded to the application of 100 lb ac-1 of P2O5. Fertilizer was banded and mixed into soil during the bed formation. All nutrients (except phosphorus) were applied via injection in the drip irrigation system (fertigation). Fertilizer sources and rates used were potassium chloride at a rate of 186 lb ac-1 of K2O and magnesium sulfate at a rate of 9 lb ac-1 of Mg.
Irrigation treatments were regulated by the commercial RS500 soil moisture sensor (SMS) controller manufactured by Acclima, Inc. (Meridian, ID, USA). The RS500 unit controls irrigation application by bypassing time clock initiated irrigation events if soil moisture is at or above a preset threshold of volumetric water content (VWC) at 0.08, 0.10 and 0.12 in3 in-3, respectively, SS8, SS10 and SS12 in 2006 and 2007. In 2007, we introduced the use of double drip irrigation (SD10), which was tested with SMS control and a threshold set at 0.10 in3 in-3 (Table 1). In the spring of 2008 the SMS treatments tested were preset at VWC of 0.04, 0.08 and 0.12 in3 in-3, respectively, SS4, SS8 and SS12; and with double drip irrigation at VWC of 0.08 in3 in-3 and 0.12 in3 in-3, respectively, SD8 and SD12 (Table 1). The soil moisture sensor probes were installed at a 45 degree angle between two plants that measured the soil moisture in the top 6 in of the bed. Timed irrigation windows were specified as five possible events per day, starting at 8:00 am, 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm, and 4:00 pm for 24 minutes each (2 hr d-1 total, or equivalent to 0.23 in day-1 or 47.2 gal 100ft-1 d-1). A reference treatment (TIME) was established, a time-based irrigation treatment with one fixed 2 hr irrigation event per day meant to represent a common grower practice of fixed time based irrigation.
Pepper fruit yield and water use efficiency
Plots were harvested on 58, 70 and 74 days after transplanting (DAT) in 2006; on 69 and 83 DAT in 2007 and on 62 and 76 DAT in 2008. The harvested area consisted of a central 30 ft long region within each plot. Pepper fruits were graded into culls, U.S. Number 2 (medium), U.S. Number 1 (large), and Fancy (extra-large) according to USDA (2005)grading standards for fresh market sweet peppers. Marketable weight was calculated as total harvested weight minus the weight of culls. The number and weight of fruits per grading class were recorded for individual plots. Irrigation water use efficiency (IWUE) expressed in lb in-1, IWUE was calculated by taking the quotient of the marketable yields (lb ac-1) and the total applied seasonal irrigation depth (in).
Table 1. Outline and description of irrigation treatments along with threshold volumetric water content (VWC), total number of irrigation events scheduled, allowed to irrigate and skipped.
Number of irrigation events
frequency (events d-1)
Acclima Digital TDT RS-500 – single drip
No soil moisture sensor, daily fixed time irrigation
Acclima Digital TDT RS-500 – single drip
Acclima Digital TDT RS-500 – double drip
No soil moisture sensor, daily fixed time irrigation
Acclima Digital TDT RS-500 – single drip
Acclima Digital TDT RS-500 – double drip
No soil moisture sensor, daily fixed time irrigation
Results and Discussion
Soil moisture sensor performance
After plant transplanting, a crop establishment period was characterized by application of similar irrigation volume to all irrigation treatments. This period lasted 14, 12 and 23 days after transplanting in 2006, 2007 and 2008, respectively. In the same year order above, the volume of water applied via irrigation corresponded to 2.83, 2.51 and 5.19 in (equivalent to 1,058; 938 and 1,940 gal 100ft -1, respectively). Following this period, irrigation treatments were initiated. The irrigation treatments controlled by SMS were programmed to bypass irrigation if the probe read soil moisture at or above the set threshold at the beginning of a scheduled irrigation cycle (Table 1).
During the crop season, programmed irrigation events were skipped which significantly reduced the amount of water applied to soil moisture sensor (SMS) based treatments. The overall percentage (average of three years) of bypassed events for each SMS threshold was 71%; 56%, 45% and 36%, for 0.04, 0.08, 0.10 and 0.12 in3 in-3, respectively. Accordingly, the overall volume of irrigation increased in the following order SS4 < SS8 < SS10 < SS12 < TIME, except in 2006 when SS10 received similar volume of irrigation water as SS12 and in 2007, when SS8 and SS10 had similar volumes applied (Table 1). It was observed that both SMS treatments failed to bypass irrigation events in the beginning of the season in 2006. The problem was attributed to cross communication between the TDT sensors, causing each of the irrigation controllers to receive signals from only one of the two wired sensors. Several adjustments were made, but the problem was not solved until each controller was wired to a separate individual irrigation timer. Another important issue encountered during the experimental phase was the location of the probe in the raised bed. Drip irrigation has a source point of irrigation which creates a gradient of soil moisture from the drip emitter and the sides of the raised bed. Therefore, the location of the sensor relative to drip line and plant row plays an important role in the sensing irrigation systems. Even though the treatments were set at different thresholds, for example, if the SS8 soil moisture probe was placed in a drier spot, it could result in higher irrigation volume applied than the SS12.
The advantage of SMS based irrigation compared to TIME treatment is that the SMS-based system irrigated for short periods of time, in this case, 24 min, and with an interval of at least 2 hours between irrigation events. This irrigation approach results in a relatively small increase in soil moisture in the upper soil layer, and the interval between irrigation events provided time for soil water redistribution, consequently decreasing the volume of percolate in deeper soil layer. On the other hand, the fixed TIME treatment irrigated for a longer time period (2 hr), which resulted in very pronounced soil moisture fluctuations. These spikes in soil moisture were only temporary, as excess soil moisture that rapidly drained below the root zone in this sandy soil. Soil moisture content returned to field capacity within 12 h. In terms of soil water availability to the plants, the TIME treatment initially may provide more favorable growth conditions since the soil remains wetter, thus reducing potential water stress. However, the long term excessive water percolation also increased nitrate leaching and reduced crop N supply and thereby reducing yield for green bell pepper.
Pepper yield and irrigation water use efficiency
The overall marketable yield for green bell pepper ranged between 12,990 to 15,270 lb ac-1 in 2006; 21,255 to 26,525 lb ac-1 in 2007; and 23,578 and 37,688 lb ac-1 in 2008. Except in 2006, when unfavorable environmental conditions occurred, bell pepper yield obtained in these experiments were in the range of those reported in the literature for sandy soils in Florida (Dukes et al. 2003; Maynard and Santos 2007; Simonne et al. 2006). The lower yield in 2006 compared to 2007 and 2008 was attributed to the effect air temperature on plant development and flowering. Low night time temperatures were shown to have a considerable effect on flower morphology and functioning, larger flowers, with swollen ovaries and shorter styles in comparison with flowers grown under higher temperature conditions. This effect of low temperatures has a direct effect on pepper production by decreasing the total number of pollen grains formed and by reducing their viability and germination capacity. A detailed analysis of measured air temperature during the entire crop cycle revealed that in 2006, pepper plants were exposed to temperatures below 57.2 ºF during 311 hours, while in 2007 and 2008, the cumulative hours with low temperatures (<57.2 ºF) were 181 and 185 hours, respectively. In addition, temperatures below 57.2 ºF occurred during the entire plant development and reproduction stages in 2006, while in 2007, low temperatures occurred throughout the season for short periods of time, however, between 49 and 63 DAT (peak of flowering stage) there was no occurrence of low temperatures.
Table 2. Irrigation treatments effects on marketable pepper fruit yield, irrigation water application, and irrigation water use efficiency (IWUE) for pepper, spring 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Mkt. Yield (lb ac-1)
IWUE2 (kg frt m-3)
Water savings (%)
1Yield and water use efficiency means followed by the same letter in the column do not differ (P>0.05) by Duncan’s Multiple Range test. 2Calculated based on total yields excluding the irrigation volume during the establishment phase.
The use of soil moisture sensor irrigation control significantly affected the irrigation water use efficiency (IWUE) (Table 2). The treatment ranking for IWUE was as follows: SS4 > SS8 >SS10 > SS12 > TIME. The TIME treatment had a lowest IWUE values (< 2.2 lb in-1) due to the high irrigation rates applied. In 2006, reduced yields associated to the high volume of irrigation applied for all treatments were responsible for the lower IWUE values (<3.94 lb in-1, Table 2). It is important to point out that high irrigation rates as applied for TIME did not increase yield, conversely, the use of scheduling irrigation by using SMS allowed application of less water, divided in five possible irrigation events per day (low volume, high frequency), which resulted in higher IWUE values. While TIME treatment had a single irrigation event (high volume, low frequency), which promotes excessive water percolation.
Soil moisture sensor based irrigation of vegetable crops has a strong potential for saving irrigation water. Advances in soil moisture sensors and irrigation controllers have made them easier to use and the cost of energy has made sensor a more viable alternative. In the past, soil moisture sensors have not been used widely by growers due to costs, the level of technical skill required and sensor maintenance required. Continued restrictions aimed at reducing nutrient leaching and recent increases in energy costs have increased grower interest in use of improved technologies. However, more work is needed to develop irrigation scheduling recommendations and automated control systems that the majority of vegetable crop growers would use. The implementation of on demand automated irrigation by growers will require further adaptation of the current irrigation systems to the soil moisture sensor technology. In some cases, vegetable irrigation blocks may need to be redesigned to adapt SMS control technology. Detailed analysis of sensor position in micro-irrigated crops, particularly plastic mulched vegetable systems is needed. Guidelines on commercial automatic soil moisture based irrigation controls as a best management practices should be developed for vegetables. The grower guidelines should include number of sensors required and optimum placement relative to varying soil conditions of commercial production. An economic assessment of costs associated with and benefits derived from conversion of irrigation systems in vegetables from seepage to drip irrigation needs to be conducted to promote water conservation by vegetable growers in south Florida.
Dukes, M.D., E.H. Simonne, W.E. Davis, D.W. Studstil, and R. Hochmuth. 2003. Effect of sensor-based high frequency irrigation on bell pepper yield and water use, pp. 665-674 Proc. 2nd Intl.Conf. Irr. and Drainage, Phoenix, Ariz.
Hutson, S.S., N.L. Barber, J.F. Kenny, K.S. Linsey, D.S. Lumia, and M.A. Maupin. 2004. Estimated use of water in the United States in 2000. U.S. Geological Survey Circ. 1268.
Maynard, D.N., and B.M. Santos. 2007. Yields of vegetables, p. 95-96, In S. M. Olson and E. Simonne, eds. Vegetable Production Handbook for Florida 2007-2008. IFAS, Gainesville.
Olson, S.M., D.N. Maynard, G. Hochmuth, C.S. Vavrina, W.M. Stall, M.T. Momol, S.E. Webb, T.G. Taylor, S.A. Smith, and E. Simonne. 2005. Tomato production in Florida, p. 357-375, In S. M. Olson and E. Simonne, eds. Vegetable Production Handbook for Florida 2005-2006. IFAS, Gainesville.
Simonne, E.H., M.D. Dukes, R.C. Hochmuth, D.W. Studstill, G. Avezou, and D. Jarry. 2006. Scheduling Drip Irrigation for Bell Pepper Grown with Plasticulture. Journal of Plant Nutrition 29:1729 - 1739.
USDA. 2005. United States standards for grades of sweet peppers USDA, Washighton, DC.
USDA. 2008. Vegetables, April 2008 Report National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. 22 Oct. 2008. <http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/current/Vege/Vege-04-03-2008.pdf>.
FAWN Tools for Strawberry Growers
By William R. Lusher, Director, FAWN (Florida Automated Weather Network)
IFAS Information Technology
In response to water shortages that occurred in Florida during the winter of 2009/2010, FAWN worked with the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) to develop and deploy two water conserving management tools to benefit strawberry growers, the FAWN Freeze Alert Tool and the FAWN Strawberry Irrigation Scheduler. The FAWN Freeze Alert Tool is a cold protection tool that notifies growers when user-selected critical temperature conditions occur at a user-selected FAWN site. The FAWN Strawberry Irrigation Scheduler assists growers in determining the appropriate number of days between irrigation and irrigation run-time, based on evapotranspiration rates, specific grove spacing data, irrigation system design, and soil type. Both of these tools are available at the FAWN website, http://fawn.ifas.ufl.edu.
The FAWN Cold Protection Toolkit provides step-by-step guidance for using water for cold protection, and typically requires that a user view specific web-based tools on a computer, and then take the results of those tools into the field for assistance in making important decisions regarding water use. On nights when temperatures are critically low, growers need to be away from the computer screen and in the field. Recognizing the grower’s need for information in the field and the growing popularity of cellular and smart phones, FAWN developed the FAWN Freeze Alert Tool, which can notify a user via Short Message Service (SMS) text and/or email message when user-determined critical temperature conditions have occurred at a user-selected FAWN site.
The FAWN Freeze Alert Tool is available from the FAWN Homepage by selecting Cold Protection under FAWN Tools. Once reaching the login page, users can either log into, or register for, the service. If registering, they can submit their first and last name, email address, cellular phone number and carrier, FAWN station, and the method by which they prefer to receive the alerts (email, text message, or both). Users must also select the critical minimum temperature for their crop of interest, and it should reflect the typical difference in temperature between the user’s location and the FAWN site. For example, if the user observes over a period of time a temperature difference of 3 degrees between his or her location and the FAWN site, then 3 degrees should be added/subtracted to the submitted critical minimum temperature accordingly so the notification will be sent when the critical temperature is reached at the user’s site. Logging into the tool allows users to adjust preferences by either changing the critical temperature or activating/deactivating notifications.
An example of a user-received text message is shown below. During each “cold event” – a night when the temperature decreases to the user critical temperature, or lower – the user receives a set of four messages:
- Alert 1: When temperature at the FAWN site is 2°C above the user critical temperature.
- Alert 2: When temperature at the FAWN site is equal to the user critical temperature.
- Alert 3:When the temperature at the FAWN site is 2°C below the wet bulb cutoff temperature.
- Alert 4: When the temperature at the FAWN site is equal to the wet bulb cutoff temperature.
FAWN Strawberry Irrigation Scheduler
To better address the irrigation needs of central Florida strawberry growers, FAWN developed an irrigation-scheduling tool using IFAS developed crop coefficients, available science, and field level research results. The scheduler utilizes user-submitted information to determine both duration and interval between irrigation events.
Planting and harvest dates, crop coefficients,evapotranspiration (ET) rates from the selected FAWN site, between-row distance, and irrigation system application rate and efficiency are used to determine daily irrigation run time for a two week period. Below is an example of the user input screen and resulting schedule.
User-submitted information should be updated every 2 weeks for a current schedule. Input data can be saved by selecting “link to my specifications” at the bottom of the page, then adding the page as a Bookmark. The Strawberry Irrigation Scheduling Scheduler can be found from the FAWN Homepage by selecting Irrigation under FAWN Tools.
FAWN has provided weather data to Florida agricultural users for the past 15 years. A significant component of FAWN’s mission is to provide growers with tools that will improve use of water and agrochemical resources. FAWN developed and deployed the FAWN Freeze Alert Tool and the FAWN Strawberry Irrigation Scheduler specifically for strawberry growers, and it is anticipated that use of these tools will generate substantial water savings during freeze protection and irrigation applications, and reduce overall crop water use.