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Water Management and Quality for Ornamental Crop Production and Health
Department of Horticulture
The ornamental plant industry ranks 5th ($14.6 billion) in US agriculture commodities and is in the top 5 commodities for 26 states (USDA, 2004). Water issues, specifically irrigation scheduling, surface water management, salinity and runoff water quality are topics of major concern to ornamental producers.
Drought, urban competition for water resources, and increasing legislation at state and county levels increase the need for ornamental producers to manage water more effectively and/or use alternative water sources that are often of inferior quality. Regardless of the area of the United States in which an operation is located, challenges exist regarding sufficient quantities of quality water sources. Legislation regarding water use and/or quality has been implemented in at least 8 states. Most field producers of nursery stock use irrigation at some point during the growing season. Many field producers use low-volume irrigation and some use such systems to deliver soluble fertilizers.
While supplemental irrigation is beneficial in field production it is essential for container production. Container substrates need to be well drained and container volume limits the amount of available water, resulting in frequent irrigation and high water use. Almost all greenhouse crops are produced in containers. Over 75 pecent of nursery crops in 17 of the major nursery producing states were grown in containers (USDA, 2007) and thus require irrigation. Amount of water applied, method of application, and irrigation frequency for Georgia nurseries has been summarized (Garber et al., 2002).
Frequent irrigation along with high fertilizer and pesticide use can lead to significant losses of agricultural chemicals in runoff water that transports them to containment ponds and/or off-site into groundwater or surface water (Briggs et al., 1998, 2002; Cabrera, 2003; Camper et al., 1994). Irrigation water management is a key component in the nutrient management of ornamental crop production and in reducing the impact of runoff water on local water (Tyler et al., 1996; Lea-Cox et al., 2001; Ross et al., 2002).
Recycling water includes another set of issues for growers, primarily in the form of disease and salinity management. Emerging constraints on water use and quality means that the ornamental industry needs to find ways to manage water without detracting from production schedules and crop quality. Water conservation and quality are top priority issues in agriculture.
Research and extension projects that are designed to address these issues are needed in ornamental production (Ogg and Keith, 2002). Precision water management and resource efficiency were rated at the top of the issue/need/concern list developed at the joint USDA, ARS, NASA and NSF workshop Engineering Solutions for Specialty Crop Challenges(USDA, 2007).
There are five interrelated areas relevant to this project:
- Source water management and quality,
- Irrigation management,
- Runoff water management and quality,
- Substrate and nutrition management, and
- Pathogens and crop health management.