76% of growers in England and Wales farm in areas currently classified as being under ‘water stress’. With additional pressures resulting from climate change and the need for greater production agricultural water demand is predicted to increase from between 25% to 180% of current demand by the 2050’s, at a time when its availability for horticulture is becoming limited. Many growers continue to apply ‘insurance’ irrigation to high value crops but with rising costs and the potential for run-off of fertilisers and pesticides to pollute ground and surface waters current practices are unsustainable.
Improving Water Use Efficiency is therefore a key goal.
Understanding how crops use water and tolerate stress is fundamental to developing new water-saving irrigation strategies that can improve resource use efficiency, productivity and product quality in sub-optimal environments. Transient exposure to ‘stress’ can improve organoleptic quality, phytonutrient content and extend product shelf life; understanding root-to-shoot signals and plants’ adaptive responses to environmental stresses enables us to develop and exploit these ‘beneficial stresses’ and develop scientifically-derived guidelines for growers.
Current WUE Research in RECP
Regulated Deficit Irrigation (RDI) water saving strategies developed at EMR with field grown strawberry have shown that a 30%-40% water saving can be achieved without compromising yield or quality. These techniques have now been applied to a variety of other field and substrate grown crops and HONS and in all cases water savings have been achieved.
For more information contact Dr Mark Else