Sensors and decision-support software can help horticultural growers worldwide to reduce their water consumption by 60 percent and use 30 percent less fertiliser without sacrificing yield and quality. At the same time cultivation also becomes more sustainable. These are among the results of the European FLOW-AID project coordinated by Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture. The project brought together scientists and developers from industry from eight countries.
The FLOW-AID research results will be discussed at a breakfast meeting during the international Horti Fair in Amsterdam on October 13.
World-wide, water is a major issue in horticulture, and limiting its consumption a vital part of sustainable production. Furthermore, over the coming years all growers in Europe will be faced with the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) which contains strict environmental regulations related to the efficient use fertilisers. While the semi-arid regions of Southern Europe are faced more with the effects of water shortage, in the Netherlands growers will mainly have to deal with the restrictions on the leaching of fertilisers.
Within the FLOW-AID project, ten partners cooperated to develop knowledge and technology for more precise irrigation and fertilization, yielding a higher water use efficiency and a reduction in nutrient leaching. The results of the three-year project coordinated by Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture were recently presented in a brochure.
Cooperation results in new technology
There are many opportunities to increase yield by changing the crop production system and the way in which water and fertilisers are being 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 fertilisers, whereby decision-support models are used to support growers. The project also evaluated irrigation techniques that use nutrient-rich, purified waste water as irrigation water for horticulture. This would be of particular interest to areas where water is scarce, such as in Mediterranean countries.
The new techniques were tested in practice in 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 percent and fertiliser savings up to 30 percent can be achieved without having a negative influence on yield or quality.
The FLOW-AID project has now been concluded and the results were presented to the European Commission. The EU was recommended to stimulate the introduction of the new techniques in practice by supporting demonstration and educational projects in which research institutes, industry and the agricultural and water sectors participate. This will ensure that the research results have a maximum impact on the sustainable production of horticultural crops.
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