The Bauerle Lab in Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture is part of a 5-year, $5-million project investigating the use of wireless sensor networks for precision irrigation and nutrient management in nursery, greenhouse and green roof systems.
The goal of the project is to develop the next generation of tools to help ornamental crop growers precisely monitor how much water plants use, closely control water applications and use water and fertilizer more efficiently.
“We expect these practices will reduce environmental impacts, such as nutrient runoff and leaching, as well as use less water,” says Dr. Taryn Bauerle, assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture. Bauerle’s past research has focused on root physiology and how plants respond to water stress.
In plantings like these two-year-old nursery trees, wireless soil moisture sensors will feed information to computers that automatically determine how much water and fertilizer to deliver to the plants via the irrigation system.
The whole idea is to have wireless soil moisture sensors feed information to computers that automatically determine how much water and fertilizer to deliver to the plants via the irrigation system, customized for individual species, she adds.
Bauerle’s lab will focus on the “micro-scale” portion of the project. This includes characterizing root growth in time and space in several important tree species, and how root zone moisture management affects shoot growth and physiology. “This work will allow us to apply what we learn at many different scales, from individual plants to nutrient requirements for whole production sites,” says Bauerle.
The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative. Combined with an additional $5 million in matching funds, the grant brings together a multidisciplinary group of engineers, plant scientists, economists and extension specialists including collaborators at the University of Maryland, Carnegie Mellon University, Colorado State University, the University of Georgia, Decagon Devices, Inc., Pullman, Wash., and Antir Software, Jarrettsville, Md.
Collaborations and testing with commercial growers and private industry in addition to social- and economic-impact analysis will help assure that the systems the project team develops are practical and profitable.
For more information on the project, visit the University of Maryland’s SensorNet website or the USDA-CRIS nontechnical summary.