2020 was a record year for strawberry yields at the Water Efficient Technology Centre (WET Centre), based at NIAB EMR in Kent, UK.
According to Delta-T Devices, the evolving irrigation technology developed at the WET Centre has shown increasingly impressive results. 2020 saw yield equivalents of up to 72t/ha for class one strawberries (up notably from the previous year). For historical comparison, industry average marketable strawberry yields for the years 2011 – 2013 were 45 t/ha.
The WET Centre’s smart irrigation systems also saw large water use efficiency improvements last year, with the amount of water required to produce a tonne of fruit measured at 37.5 m3 – 44 m3. By comparison, industry average figures from the 2011-2013 period were in the range of 49 m3 – 108 m3 of water.
The NIAB EMR team’s research focused on the use of automated irrigation control systems, with as little human intervention as possible. The programmable GP2 Data Logger allowed the NIAB EMR team to set different control algorithms for separate experimental irrigation regimes, and then measure and compare the outcome of each approach. These experiments enabled them to accurately determine key plant stress points and identify optimum moisture content levels in the growing substrate throughout the life cycle of the strawberry plant.
The use of smart irrigation technology also allowed the team to ascertain the minimum amounts of water needed to achieve the desired level of strawberry plant quality and yield. This minimising of wastage is of huge importance given the increasing scarcity of water – and the likelihood that intensive horticultural growing systems will become increasingly based in urban locations, where very strict water waste prevention protocols (and legislation) are likely to be the norm.