Horticulture

Sensing for irrigation savings

By Country News

A student from Italy’s University of Palermo completed part of his PhD at Agriculture Victoria’s Tatura research station, focusing on the use of leaf and fruit sensors to determine tree water status.

Alessio Scalisi conducted the research between September last year and April.

The influence of different deficit irrigation strategies, used to reduce water use in orchard systems, were tested on physiological and productive characteristics of September Bright nectarine trees, Mr Scalisi said.

‘‘Two different types of innovative sensors were tested on leaves and fruit to assess plant water status and estimate continuously water requirement all summer.’’

Mr Scalisi said the findings revealed the potential to estimate plant water requirements and also found a possibility to save irrigation water when plants were not experiencing drought stress.

‘‘Indeed, results show that some of the deficit irrigation treatments did not significantly affect fruit production and tree water status,’’ he said.

‘‘So far, worldwide, irrigation is rarely managed based on the output of continuous sensors mounted on tree organs, implying that this study can represent an important step towards real-time and precise irrigation automation.

‘‘I also conducted a similar study in olive groves in south-western Sicily (in Italy), where analogous results were achieved.

‘‘Therefore, in the future, this approach for irrigation automation can potentially be used for other fruit crops of relevant economic interest for northern Victoria.

‘‘The two types of sensors were brought from Italy to Australia to be tested under different environmental conditions.’’

Tatura was chosen as his northern Victorian location because of its many orchards.

‘‘I chose to conduct this study in Tatura because it is well known worldwide for its high-density orchard systems ... and the experimental orchards of Agriculture Victoria provided the ideal conditions for this research.

‘‘Orchardists in Victoria are becoming more eager to cut irrigation water costs and Australian consumers are increasing their awareness of environmental issues, being part of a global revolution which needs to take into account water saving in agriculture.’’