Will Ross, former member of the Oconee County FFA, Mr. Mitchell's state
winning Nursery Landscape Team and National FFA Finalist in Nursery
Production Proficiency makes the news.  Mr. Ross continues to be involved
with FFA by providing SAE experiences at his nursery and conducting the
plant identification workshop at state Nursery Landscape CDE each year. UGA,
Georgia Nurserymen Pinpoint Plants' Water

Press Release by Issuing Company Thursday, 17 February 2011


Water/Irrigation <>

How or when to water plants in a greenhouse or at a nursery is largely based
on experience – a finger poke in the soil or simply a watering tradition
passed from one worker to the next – or, it’s just plain guesswork. No one’s
ever thought to ask the plants how much water they really need.

A project being conducted by the University of Georgia College of
Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and several Georgia nurseries is
doing just that. And the information is saving water, fertilizer and time.

Using wireless sensors and computer software, CAES horticulturists are
measuring soil moisture around plant roots. When the water levels get low,
the sensors send information to a grower’s computer. Sound watering decision
can then be made.

“When it was hotter outside, I loved being able to come into the office
early in the morning and download the data,” said Will Ross with Evergreen
Nursery in Statham, Ga. “I could know without even going outside what the
watering needs were. It helped a lot.”

Ross likes to test his personal skills at determining how much water his
plants need against the computer data. “As a grower, it kind of gives me
extra confidence that I can tell when plants don’t need water and when they
do,” he said.

CAES associate professor Marc van Iersel started using soil sensors in his
greenhouse six years ago. Evergreen Nursery, McCorkle Nurseries in Dearing,
Ga., and other U.S. nurseries have tested the sensors and computer software
for the past year.

“The technology is pretty easy to use,” van Iersel said. “Much of it is plug
and play. You plug a sensor into the datalogger. There’s no wiring. You tell
the computer which plants are using the sensors. And it’s going to become
easier with updated software that’s coming out soon.”

*More than water savings*

Regardless of drought or rain, less water used at a nursery means more in
the reservoir and money saved by growers.

Watering according to a plant’s needs “should minimize disease pressure to a
great degree and allow us to use a reduced rate of fertilizer, which saves
costs to growers and prevents potential runoff issues associated with that,”
said Chris McCorkle of McCorkle Nurseries. “And, ultimately, it will help us
improve plant quality.”

It seems like plant quality would improve with more water and fertilizer,
but too much of either can lead to stressed – and possibly diseased – plants
that aren’t as well prepared to grow outside a greenhouse or nursery.

*Scaled to needs*

The UGA researchers developed the monitoring system to scale to any
operation, and be affordable. “The nice thing about the system is that
you’re able to start with small sections and let it grow over time,” Van
Iersel said.

“I think if we go through this trial, and we see multiple benefits to this,”
the system’s cost “is just a hurdle we’d have to jump,” Ross said. “I maybe
wouldn’t take on the whole nursery at one time.”

*Next step*

Nursery growers are giving UGA CAES horticulturists feedback on how the
monitoring system will help in the long run.

“It’s exciting to see this kind of technology being applied in a production
environment,” said Chris Butts with the Georgia Green Industry Association.
“So far, it looks promising. I’m glad we have growers excited about the
potential of the technology.”

UGA is working with Carnegie-Mellon University, where researchers are
developing new hardware that automatically turns irrigation on or off as
needed. Van Iersel hopes to have prototypes this spring to install in the

“A system like this is ultimately going to make better decisions than many
of our irrigation guys are going to make,” McCorkle said. “Having a system
like this could greatly improve our watering situation.”

By Stephanie Schupska, University of Georgia

Dr. Teri Hamlin
North Region Agriculture Education
Georgia Department of Education
204C Four Towers University of Georgia
Athens, Ga 30602
706-552-4461 / 706-540-0032
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