Brussels, 14 Jan 2003
Drought regions in southern Europe can now achieve healthy crop yields with less irrigation water thanks to irrigation scheduling programs recently developed by a EU funded research project.
Under the Fourth Framework Programme's FAIR programme, scientists from four EU Mediterranean countries collaborated in a project, with a total budget of 7,500 euro, entitled 'Innovative biological indicators to improve the efficiency of water and nitrogen use and the fruit quality in tree crops'. The project addresses the increased water demands and periodic droughts that threatened the sustainability of irrigated agriculture in many areas of southern Europe.
The project focused on fruit bearing trees of high economic value such as citrus and olive as it was found that these types of crop suffered most from poor water management because of the carry over effects into subsequent years. The aim of the project was to optimise water and nutrient utilization while minimising water and nutrient losses and improving fruit quality.
Previous forms of irrigation have proven unable to meet the needs of irrigated agriculture, which is increasingly under pressure to conserve water.
Using high tech Trunk Diameter Fluctuations (TDF) sensors, scientists were able to gauge the water retention status of the fruit trees. This information was then fed into irrigation scheduling programs to determine the amount of water necessary to maintain the trees' health and crop yields.
The results from the irrigation scheduling programs were surprising: reductions in water usage of 10 to 30 per cent were achieved without affecting the yield. In fact, it was noticed that the fruit quality had significantly improved: The participating scientists believe that the fruit quality is maintained when the crops are not watered to100 per cent saturation.
Not only did the project result in water conservation and healthy fruit crops, it also found that there was a reduction in nitrogen leaking into the soil. This is a significant finding that it may help reduce the risk of groundwater contamination.
The results of the project are currently being communicated to the academic community as well as the relevant public authorities within these regions, with an aim to promote more efficient farming practices.
For further information on the project, please