Profitability of Sensor-based Irrigation in Greenhouse

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Improvements in sensor technology coupled with advances in knowledge about plant physiology have made it feasible to use real-time substrate volumetric water content sensors to accurately determine irrigation timing and application rates in soilless substrates in greenhouse and container production environments. Sensor-based irrigation uses up-front investments in equipment and system calibration in return for subsequent reductions in irrigation water use and associated costs of energy and labor, spending on fertilizer, and disease losses. It can also accelerate production time. We present formulas for assessing profitability when benefits and costs are separated in time and apply those formulas using data from an experiment on production of gardenia [Gardenia augusta ‘MADGA 1’ (Heaven Scent™)]. Sensor-controlled irrigation cuts production time and crop losses by more than half. Annualized profit under the wireless sensor system was over 1.5 more than under the nursery’s standard practice, with the bulk of the increase in profit due to the reduction in production time. These results indicate that controlling irrigation using wireless sensor systems is likely to increase profitability substantially, even if efficiency gains are not as high as those achieved under experimental conditions.

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