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Use 30% less fertilizers, and get the same yields

Fertilizer prices are rising sharply, and precise irrigation can help you save $$$  

The price of Fertilizers is on the rise, bringing it to levels we haven’t seen since 2008. This is putting a lot of strain on farmers, as they need to supply their crops with the necessary nutrients to maintain economic yields but struggle to cope with rising fertilizers prices. 

Farmers have very little control over fertilizer price, but they can affect their total expense on fertilizer by increasing their fertilizer use efficiency; if we increase our fertilizer uptake efficiency by 30%, we can use 30% fewer fertilizers and keep the same yields.  

Irrigation plays a critical role in efficient plant nutrient uptake from the soil, as Plants absorb their nutrients only from the soil solution. Therefore, managing irrigation correctly and understanding the effect of soil moisture on the soil’s biology and nutrient uptake is crucial if we want to increase nutrient uptake efficiency.  

Precision irrigation plays an important role here, as it gives the farmer tools for improved soil moisture and plant health management, which can improve the root system nutrient uptake efficiency, and reduce fertilizer losses to the environment. 

 

 

Extensive irrigation that floods the soil also deprives
the roots of Oxygen, causing roots to
die,
decreasing
the efficiency of nutrient uptake even more 

 

 

How Can You Improve Nutrient Uptake Efficiency Using Precision Irrigation?

Here are a few ways for achieving great results:

The first is reducing nutrient losses to the subsoil. When large irrigations are applied, nutrients that are not attached firmly to soil particles are leached below the shallow active root system and are, in fact, lost. This is the case with Nitrogen, the most important nutrient for plants. With precision irrigation, we manage our irrigations so the Nitrogen we apply ends up where it can be absorbed by the roots and is not lost to the subsoil and becomes a source of groundwater pollution.  

Extensive irrigation that floods the soil also deprives the roots of Oxygen, causing roots to die, decreasing the efficiency of nutrient uptake even more. 

The second way precision irrigation aids nutrient uptake is by ensuring the soil doesn’t dry too much between irrigations, which is crucial in many aspects. 

For example, Potassium uptake is very slow when the soil dries too much. When water is in the soil, Potassium is released from between the clay particles into the soil solution and then moves towards the plant roots. The roots invest energy and absorb Potassium from the soil solution, lowering its concentration around them. This causes more Potassium to move towards them according to the concentration gradient. This process can only happen if a continuous layer of water connects soil particles and roots, creating a slow but constant flow of Potassium to the roots. 

Keeping adequate soil moisture also has a significant effect on Phosphorus uptake. Unlike Nitrogen and even Potassium, Phosphorous doesn’t move in the soil and stays at the top part of the soil where it was applied, and so the roots need to travel to find it and literally “touch” it so they can release it from the ground and absorb it. Roots development is dependent on soil moisture, and if soil moisture is not correctly kept the root system will be sparse, and they will not develop close to the surface where the Phosphorus is held, so they won’t reach all the expensive Phosphorus we applied.  

Another important factor in the soil that is mainly affected by soil moisture is soil Biology. The microorganisms in the soil are essential for efficient nutrient management, as they are involved in mineralization processes that release nutrients from Organic matter to the soil solution, where they can be absorbed. They also improve soil structure to hold more nutrients so they will not leach to the subsoil with irrigation. Lastly, many microorganisms form symbiotic relationships with the plant, increasing its ability to absorb nutrients, especially Phosphorus, which plays a critical role in its absorption. Soil microorganisms are extremely sensitive to soil moisture and can’t survive when the soil is too dry. On the other hand, they can’t survive without Oxygen if the soil is saturated for too long. So, keeping balanced soil moisture is critical for healthy living soil. 

 

Preventing Plant Stress and Keeping Soil Moisture and Soil Oxygen Balanced

Proper irrigation prevents plant stress. Plants that grow under stress are far less efficient in nutrient uptake, as many of the processes described above require energy. All energy in plants comes from sugars created in the photosynthesis process; plants that grow under stress create far less sugar and instead? waste sugar and energy on stress management mechanisms. instead of allocating these sugars to the root system to increase its efficiency. 

So, efficient irrigation will be such that keeps soil moisture and soil Oxygen balanced, allowing the development of a dense and healthy root system that will enable efficient uptake of the nutrients applied with the irrigation water. Irrigations must not be too big and wash nutrients under the root zone and deprive roots and soil microorganisms of Oxygen, but also not too small or far away from each other as it will cause water stress to our plants and even cause roots and soil microorganisms to die.  

Precision irrigation systems are very important in achieving efficient irrigation management. The combined use of soil-plant and weather data allows accurate maintenance of soil moisture that encourages roots development and improves soil biology, monitors, and prevents plant stress. Hence, our production system is more efficient and is constantly reacting in real-time to changes that can affect our crop and its ability to effectively uptake nutrients from the soil. 

 

Nitzan Shatzkin, Chief Commercial Agronomist, SupPlant

 

 

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