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Innovative biological indicators to improve the efficiency of water and nitrogen use and fruit quality in tree crops

Contract nr: FAIR-CT95-0030
Project nr: 30
Project type: SC
Starting date: 01/03/1996
Duration: 54 months
Total cost: 727,500 EUR
EC Contribution: 727,500 EUR
Scientific Officer: Marie-Françoise SCHARLL
Research topic: Plant health

Increased water demands and periodic droughts are threatening the sustainability of irrigated agriculture in many areas of Southern Europe. Among irrigated crops, fruit trees are of high economic value and can suffer the most from poor water management, because of the carry over effects into subsequent years. At present, methods used for irrigation management of tree crops are inadequate to meet the needs of irrigated agriculture under increasing pressures to conserve water from the rest of society. Excessive irrigation applications not only waste water, but also contribute to Nitrogen leaching and ground water pollution. With the recent developments in sensor technologies which allow for the continuous monitoring of tree water status and water use, it may be possible to develop simple techniques for the irrigation scheduling of fruit trees by combining established technologies with direct measurement of trees.

The objective is to manage the irrigation of fruit trees (citrus, olives, apples, peaches) for optimum water and nutrient utilisation, for minimum water and nutrient losses and at the same time improve fruit quality by manipulating the supply of water to the trees using tree sensors whose operation can be automated.

The final product (the major deliverable) of the research is envisaged to be an irrigation programme for each of the species studied, based on the use of automated sensors. This should result in optimum water use and in improved fruit quality.

The work programme includes:

  • assembling and evaluating of sensors to monitor sap flow and trunk diameter fluctuations;
  • study of selected tree responses to water deficits which are relevant to the design of irrigation programmes for optimising water use for agricultural yield and quality;
  • developing irrigation schedules that would optimise use of water and nitrogen and that would improve the fruit quality;
  • developing a prototype for automatic irrigation scheduling.

Current situation/results:
The research is nearing completion and has established the superior sensitivity of trunk diameter sensors for detecting water stress in peach, apple, pear, citrus and olive trees. Optimum irrigation programmes will be presented in the final report. A prototype for automatic irrigation scheduling, based on the use of trunk diameter and soil water sensors, has been developed and is nearing commercial exploitation.

Universidad de Cordoba
Departamento de Agronomia
Avda. Menendez Pidal S/N
E-14071 Cordoba

Tel.: +34 957 49 92 29
Fax: +34 957 49 92 52


  • Thierry AMEGLIO
    Université Blaise Pascal
    Domaine de Crouelle
    F-63039 Clermont-Ferrand
    Tel.: +33 4 73 62 43 69
    Fax: +33 4 73 62 44 54

  • Nicholaos MICHELAKIS
    National Agricultural Research Foundation
    GR-731 00 Chania
    Tel.: +30 8 219 71 42
    Fax: +30 8 219 39 63

    Instituto Valenciano de Investigaciones Agrarias
    Crta. Moncada A Naquera - Km. 5.2
    E-46113 Moncada (Valencia)
    Tel.: +34 96 139 10 00
    Fax: +34 96 139 02 40

  • Cochen MOISES
    I.R.T.A. - Institut de Recerca y Tecnologia Agroalimentaries
    Crta. De Cabrils S/N
    E-08348 Cabrils (Barcelona)
    Tel.: +34 93 750 75 11
    Fax: +34 93 753 39 54

  • Rossano MASSAI
    Università degli Studi di Pisa
    Via Del Borghetto 80
    I-56124 Pisa
    Tel.: +39 050 57 15 50
    Fax: +39 050 54 44 20


  • Maria Isabel FERREIRA GAMA
    Universidade Tecnica de Lisboa
    Tapada da Ajuda
    P-1399 Lisboa
    Tel.: +351 21 363 81 61
    Fax: +351 21 363 50 31

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