Fruit industry could reduce water usage with new irrigation techniques
New water-saving irrigation strategies being developed will help improve the efficiency of water and fertiliser use in the soft fruit industry.
East Malling Research is developing new irrigation techniques that are being carried out on commercial trial sites to grow strawberries and raspberries using less water.
Progress has been made in substrate-grown strawberries with water savings of between 20-30% having been achieved by the use of a new irrigation scheduling strategy.
The new techniques include soil moisture sensing probes and data loggers with telemetry so that data can be accessed remotely and in real-time.
Dr Mark Else, Senior Research Leader in the Resource Efficiency for Crop Production Science Programme at East Malling Research, said: "It is a balancing act to use water and fertilisers more efficiently on farms while continuing to deliver high yields of class one fruit with good flavour and shelf-life.
"We now need to demonstrate the success of this research to the industry and that is why it is important to have the trial sites closely monitored so we can prove that this technology will not only save valuable water and expensive fertilisers but also increase profitability and improve environmental sustainability."
The project, supported by South East Water, is being developed after a record-breaking two consecutive dry winters.
Head of Water Resources and Environmental at South East Water, Lee Dance, said: "There is a real need in commercial horticulture to encourage the adoption of new production methods that use less water.
"By carefully monitoring the success of this new irrigation technique, fruit growers will be given documented evidence as to why they should adopt the new water-saving technologies."