Investigation of Effective Irrigation Strategies for High-Density Apple Orchards in Pennsylvania
Irrigation helps grow agricultural crops in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall. Proper irrigation could improve both crop productivity and produce quality. For high density apple orchards, water relations are even more important. Most irrigation in tree fruit orchards is applied based on grower’s experience or simple observations, which may lead to over- or under-irrigation. To investigate an effective irrigation strategy in high-density apple orchard, three irrigation methods were tested including soil moisture-based, evapotranspiration (ET)-based and conventional methods. In soil moisture-based irrigation, soil water content and soil water potential sensors were measured side by side. In ET-based irrigation, daily ET (ETc) and accumulated water deficit were calculated. Conventional method was based on the experience of the operator. The experiment was conducted from early June through middle of October (one growing season). Lastly, water consumption, fruit yield and fruit quality were analyzed for these irrigation strategies. Results indicated that the soil moisture-based irrigation used least water, with 10.8% and 4.8% less than ET-based and conventional methods, respectively. The yield from the rows with the soil moisture-based irrigation was slightly higher than the other two, while the fruit quality was similar. The outcome from this study proved the effectiveness of using soil moisture sensors for irrigation scheduling and could be an important step for future automatic irrigation system.