Nutrient and salinity management for spinach production under sprinkler irrigation in the low desert region of California

Abstract

The efficiency of irrigation, as well as optimization of nutrients, affect spinach yield in all growth stages. In this study, the sensitivity of spinach (early and mature yields) to shallow saline groundwater and the effect of fertigation treatments on mature yield were experimentally investigated. The sprinkler irrigation experiments were conducted on 0.47 ha of silty clay soil at the University of California Desert Research and Extension Center (DREC) in Imperial Valley, California. Twelve beds in the experimental field were chosen randomly to investigate the effect of three fertigation treatments on spinach yield. Three rates of urea ammonium nitrate (UAN-32) fertilizer; T1: 200 kg ha−1 (150%), T2: 133.3 kg ha−1 (100%), and T3: 66.7 kg ha−1 (50%) in four replicates were applied. Soil samples to depths of up to 120 cm were collected at baby leaves and mature harvesting dates (17th October and 19th November 2019, respectively) for salinity measurements. Additionally, soil matric potential through the 120 cm soil depth was measured and groundwater levels in five observation wells were recorded during the growing season. Results showed that average soil salinity at baby leaves harvesting stage through the top 60 cm active root zone depth ranged from 0.61 to 1.48 dS m−1, which is lower than the spinach salinity threshold limit (2 dS m−1), while the average groundwater depth was 1.90 m with salinity ranging from 6.35 to 10.60 dS m−1. Correlation analysis showed that the baby spinach leaves yield was weakly correlated (r = 0.40) to the average soil salinity in the top 60 cm soil depth. Although groundwater and top 60 cm soil salinity showed an increase at the mature yield harvesting stage, the mature yield was weakly correlated to soil salinity (p = 0.116). As the UAN-32 rate increased, the mature spinach yield increased. The mature spinach yields were 17.31, 14.00, and 12.54 ton ha−1 for T1, T2, and T3 fertigation treatments, respectively. However, only a 10% reduction in yield occurred in T3 treatment corresponding to a 50% reduction in UAN-32 rate by 66.7 kg ha−1. Based on the results of this study, shallow saline groundwater has little impact on spinach yield. In addition, the 50% increase in UAN-32 rate had a significant impact on mature spinach yield. The 150% UAN-32 rate resulted in an increase in spinach yield and could be used in arid and semiarid regions with similar conditions to the Imperial Valley but additional measures to minimize the leaching of nitrate from the root zone and to reduce the load of nitrogen in drainage water are needed to minimize the potential negative impact of over-fertigation on the environment.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the support from the US Fulbright program that provided funding for Eltarabily to conduct this work during his stay in California. We thank the staff of the University of California Desert Research and Extension Center for providing the necessary resources and facilities for conducting this experiment.

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Correspondence to Mohamed G. Eltarabily.

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Bali, K.M., Eltarabily, M.G., Berndtsson, R. et al. Nutrient and salinity management for spinach production under sprinkler irrigation in the low desert region of California. Irrig Sci (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00271-021-00740-4

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