Yield, quality and profitability of sensor-controlled irrigation: a case study of snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus L.) production
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Advanced wireless irrigation sensor networks that can monitor and control irrigation are only recently available commercially, but on-farm research has found a number of advantages compared with current irrigation practices including reduced water application, disease incidence, production time and labor, together with increased profitability. We examined the effects of wireless sensor networks to precisely control irrigation based on substrate moisture in a 0.15-ha greenhouse producing cut-flower snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus). We calculated changes in yield, production time, quality, cost, revenue and profit using grower data on production, expenditures and sales, which included 3 years of data before and after implementation of sensor irrigation networks. Sensor-based irrigation was associated with a 62 % ($65,173 or $434,487 ha−1) increase in revenue and a 65 % ($35,327 or $325,513 ha−1) increase in profit per year. Sensor-based irrigation was also associated with increases in the quality and the number of stems harvested per crop. The time to first harvest and time to last harvest were reduced for all cultivar groups, indicating that the plants grew faster using sensor networks. Production time per crop was decreased, allowing 2.5 additional crops per year. Electricity usage was also reduced, likely due to less frequent irrigation using sensor networks. These results are in line with other benefits we have seen by installing sensor networks in other types of ornamental operations.
The authors gratefully acknowledge funding support for this project from USDA–NIFA Specialty Crops Research Initiative; Award #2009-51181-05768. We thank Charles and Richard Bauer for their assistance with conducting this experiment and providing historical production, sales and expenditure data.
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