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Fertigation in Sustainable Agricultural Systems

Sustainable Agricultural systems seek to maximize the yield and quality of crops and minimize the costs
of production, while maintaining sustainability. With Fertigation Technique we could achieve this objective
as an optimal and balanced water ,nutrient supply and Protection of the environment.
The fertigation technique is widely used in Mediterranean basin countries. Where nutrients are injected
through irrigation water in concentrations meeting the actual plants requirements. Fertilizers are added
through injectors to reach the optimum level of water content and nutrient concentration in the root zone
(Mieller et al., 1981; Papadopoulos, 1990; Gardner et al., 1984; Winsor et al.,1976; Bar-Yuosef, 1988).
Fertigation technique increase fertilizer use efficiency through increasing the availability of nutrients for
plants and decreasing leaching. Furthermore, nutrient concentration in soil water can be controlled, and
timing of adding fertilizers is flexible. Pollution of groundwater, especially, with nitrate can, also, be
alleviated. All of this can be achieved through adding fertilizers according to the actual requirements and
best management of irrigation system(Aamer et al.,1977; Bar yousef, 1991). It is obvious the importance
of Fertigation technique to take palce in sustainable agricultural system .
Jordanian Farmers started using chemical fertilizers in irrigated agriculture areas over 40 years ago.
Applying fertilizers by broadcasting in irrigation water using By Pass Flow techniques started in the mid
Jordanian agriculture made considerable developments in fertigation techniques. Out of 256021 ha of
cultivated lands, about 75632 ha are irrigated. At present, all irrigation in the country is pressurized.
Currently, most farmers are switching from surface to drip irrigation as a mean to increase water use
efficiency. In the last 30 years, farmers started using high technology irrigation systems. About 91% of
farmers irrigate their plants using drip irrigation systems. Vegetables in green houses and open fields and
flowers are fully fertigated. In 2000, about 89% of framers in the Jordan Valley used fertigation. Only 11%
used broadcasting (Zuraiqi 2000), while in 2003 87.2% of farmers used fertigation and only 12.8% used
Fertilizers injection equipments used in Jordan are of different kinds. However, the bypass flow tank.
Irrigation water pump suction, hydraulics injectors and venture injectors are the most common used in the
area. The by pass flow tank is the oldest equipment used in the country. It was introduced first with drip
irrigation during the mid 70s and it still used by Jordanian farmers in large areas. By the middle of 90s,
some farmers injected fertilizers through the irrigation system by the suction pipe of the irrigation water
pumps. Many farmers are still using it now (39.4%). High fertigation techniques with different plant
nutrients should be recommended for farmers where water and fertilizer use efficiency is low and the cost
of fertilizer and labor are high. Moreover, with this in mind, the traditional management of plant nutrient
application must be modified and adjusted to crop with this trend in irrigation method. Thus, in 1992 the
National Center for Agriculture Research and Technology Transfer (NCARTT) started using the high
fertigation trenches (dosatron hydraulic injectors and venture) on vegetable crops and fruit trees research.
The NCARTT researches compared the tow method in fertilization the cash crops , first by fertigation
technique and the seconded by farmer method (using By Pass Tank to applied fertilizers) , which carried
out in regional centers distributed in different areas of Jordan. Fertigation technique results showed that
the marketable yield has been increased to 30 % with saved of fertilizers reached to 50 % and increased
the nitrogen fertilizer use efficiency to 30 % . Fertigation reduced the loss of nitrogen to the environment
as increased the nitrogen fertilizer use efficiency.
NCARE Has carried out many of Fertigation Trials in the farmers fields in irrigated areas, farmers have
been involved in implementation of this technique. It was Recorded during the first five-years plan of
NCARE an increase of production varied between 33-60% and saving of fertilizers varied between 2640%.
Fertigation experiments on vegetables will continue in several areas of the country (JORDAN) in addition
to many of field trials will be conducted in farmers fields .The main aim of these trails is to show the

farmers the usefulness of these practices for application of fertilizers and to convince them to adapted
fertigation technique These trails will carried out 24 sits in the country during the second five-years plan of
The second five-years plan of NCARE, the farmers recorded saving in fertilizers by used fertigation
technique varied between 20-35% and an increase in the production reached 36% of tomato crop and
cucumber crop grown under protected conditions. Many of farmers in Jordan valley has been adopted this
technology about 66 farms and about 24 farmers in the high land areas of jordan.
The fertigation project in NCARE has published a number of brochures and posters on fertigation
technology .Many of training courses on cooperation with Jordan University of Applied Sciences and
Technology(JUST)and International potassium institute ( IPI) involved local agronomists and many from
the neighboring countries (Syria, Lebanon, Iraq , Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq , Tunisia and Morocco)

The advantage of Fertigation:

Fertigation technqniq were introduced as the modern and most advanced technique of fertilization in
Mediterranean countries . Fertigation is expected to improve use efficiency of both fertilizers and water
uses. Under Fertigation, the type, amount and time of application should be managed to maximize
fertilizer use efficiency.
The fertilizer applied should be managed to avoid negative impact on the root system, soil and ground
water. In addition, fertigation should be managed taken into consideration soil and environmental factors
as well as type of the crops and production of high quality products. Therefor, this project was initiated to
develop a research program and a technology transfer activities that would study various factors affecting
the efficiency of fertigation.
Fertigation a modern agrotechnique provides an excellent opportunity to both maximize yield and
minimize environmental pollution (Magen, 1995; Shani et al., 1988; Sneh, 1987).
In semiarid and arid climatic conditions and occasionally even in humid climates, an optimum water
supply depends on irrigation. Mostly, water is supplied by surface irrigation via open channels, flooding
and furrows, but the efficiency of water use is rather low. Typically, one third to one half of the applied
water, carrying with it considerable amounts of nutrients, may not be.41sed by a crop. Water use
efficiency is much higher in pressurized irrigation systems, ranging from 70% to 95%. Such systems allow
for a good control of water and nutrient supply and minimize losses. Major constraints to the use of
pressurized irrigation are the initial capital investment, maintenance costs and availability of expertise in
the use of the system. Drip irrigation is probably the most effective method of water application. It
localizes the water supply and this triggers the development of a restricted root system that requires
frequent replenishment of the nutrients. Applying nutrients in the irrigation water may satisfy this
The tendency for the transition from open irrigation, driven by gravity, to pressurized- and micro-irrigation
systems is observed in several localities. For example, a report on California agriculture states that over
the period 1986/96 irrigation with gravity systems decreased by 11 %, while the use of micro-irrigation
increased by 12%. Micro-irrigation technology employs emitters with tiny apertures delivering water at low
flow rates. In addition, farms that change'd their irrigation system adopted new nutrient management
techniques such as fertigation (Dillon et al., 1999).
A developing farming system may profit considerably by introducing fertigation while shifting to microirrigation systems. For example, vegetable production in the Jiftlik Valley on the West Bank of the River
Jordan has increased more than tenfold. At the same time, farmer's net income has increased even more
due to the improved quality of the produce. A key factor in the project's success has been the transfer of
the drip irrigation and fertigation technology directly to the farming community. The rapid provision of a
fully established technology to a farming community, as opposed to a step-by-step approach, has proved
to be a viable option, even without the prior development of a complete infrastructure. This approach may,
therefore, offer an .Economically and socially acceptable way to develop the food value of crops in
developing countries (Raymon and Or, 1990).

In a fertigation system, the timing, amounts, concentrations and ratios of the nutrients are easily
controlled. Due to this improved control, crop yields are larger than those produced by a simple fertilizer
application and irrigation system. Such yield increases should not be attributed to fertigation only because
the changes in the agro-technique are accompanied by other improvements in crop management,
Fertigation may be practiced under any irrigation system. However, fertilizers applied with open irrigation
can give a more uneven nutrient distribution in the field. Playan and Faci (1997) showed that the
uniformity of nutrient distribution in the lower half of a field with open irrigation, ranged from 30 to 52%,
while the uniformity of water distribution ranged from 63 to 97%.
Under pressurized irrigation systems,fertigation is considered an integral part of plant nutrient
management and specifically so under micro-irrigation. Because such systems generate a concentrated
and space-limited root system within the wetted soil volume fertigation is essential to ensure optimum
plant nutrition.
Co-application of plant nutrients and water via fertigation avoids excessive leaching of nutrients from the
soil volume where roots are actively taking up nutrients and thus minimizes groundwater contamination
(Alva and Mozaffari, 1995; Hagin and Lowengart, 1996). Furthermore, by adopting fertigation, crops may
be grown to their maximum potential on infertile, shallow soils and inert media (Bar-Yosef, 1988; BarYosefand Imas, 1995; Imas et al., 1998; Katkafi and Bar- Yosef, 1980; Sonneveld, 1995).

Final Activity Report Summary - NAGREF+PPO

(Sustainable fertigation techniques for vegetable
production in Greece)
Vegetable production constitutes one of the most important farming activities in Greece and has the
potential to develop further. However optimal levels of vegetable production require high water inputs,
especially under Mediterranean conditions. Fertigation (which means the combination of fertilisation
and irrigation) is a tool for analysing and achieving optimal levels of water and fertiliser use.
To optimise nutrient and water inputs, a program was developed in the Netherlands by Praktijk
Onderzoek Plant & Omgeving (PPO; applied plant research - division glass; Wageningen-University &
Research) in the 1960s. This program, which has evolved over time, uses a 1:2 v/v soil-water extract
as a base for fertigation recommendations for a variety of vegetable crops.
In total, about 5 000 growers, both in the Netherlands and abroad, are using the system. New
elements have to be introduced into this system to make it appropriate for the Mediterranean
situation. Due to the higher risk of soil salinisation and different soil characteristics of the
Mediterranean region, modifications to this program are probably warranted.
This project was undertaken to determine if the Dutch glasshouse system was affected by:
1) irrigation water quality and quantity;
2) soil solution dilution in the 1:2 volume water extract; and
3) soil nitrate concentrations.
Problems with the extraction procedure and interpretation of results may occur due to filtration
problems and gypsum in the soil which leads to overestimation of the European Commission of the soil
solution. Quantity of fertilisers, and costs and benefits for the grower were also determined. The work
plan consisted of evaluation of the Greek situation, workshops, contacts with laboratories agricultural
universities, agricultural extension services, growers association, on-farm demonstrations, trials and
introducing the system into laboratories and extension services.
An experienced researcher (> 10 years of research experience) of NAGREF was trained at PPO during

3 months. A more experienced researcher (with >10 years of research experience) of PPO was hosted
by NAGREF during 10 months and provided training to partner organisations. The project management
structure consisted of a project committee and a project management team.
The project committee included these two researchers together with: the director of NAGREF, the
director of 'olive and horticultural crops' at the institute of Kalamata, a representative of an
agricultural educational institute, of private laboratories, extension services and growers association.
The project management team (experienced researcher of NAGREF and more experienced researcher
of PPO) was responsible for project planning, monitoring progress of the project and monitoring the
The investigation was conducted in the Kiparisia area in the southwest part of Peloponnese, Greece
(latitude 36 deg 5 N, longitude 20 deg 8 E). The study was conducted in four greenhouses; two with
cucumber (Cucumis sativus L.) and two with tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) from August 2004
to December 2004 (first season) and from January 2005 up to July 2005 (main crop season). All crops
were grown on a soil with low and high lime content under plasticulture. Occasionally other
greenhouse soils were analysed for comparison. Greenhouses were heated and ventilated, depending
upon the season, and covered from 0.2 to 1.2 ha. Water and fertigation solutions typically used by
producers were placed in glass bottles. Samples were non-acidified during transport to the laboratory.
Electrical conductivity, pH, K, Ca, Mg, NH4, Na, Si, NO3, SO4, P, HCO3, Cl, Fe, Mn, Zn, B, Cu and Mo
were measured using colorimetry, potentiometry, inductively coupled plasma atomic emission
spectrometry, atomic absorption / emission and titration. In-line drip irrigation systems were used
with one emitter per plant with a discharge rate of 4 L*hr-1. Irrigation schedules were based on
grower practices, and related to solar radiation and plant size. Fertilisers were provided as a water
soluble, greenhouse grade, N-P2O5-K2O-MgO (+trace elements) or as individual salts, mainly KNO3,
Mg(NO3)2 or urea. Fertiliser use was recorded. Soil was plowed and rotavated. In each greenhouse 20
random soil samples, taken to a depth of 25 cm, were obtained. Fertiliser was applied and the soil
again rotavated. Additional soil samples were obtained. After planting, during cultivation, soil samples
were taken using an Edelman auger (dia 7 cm) under the emitters and between plant rows (25 cm
from emitters) down to 20 cm below the soil surface from each greenhouse.
Ten samples were taken from under the emitters and 25 cm from the emitters within each
greenhouse. It was later decided to standardise the procedure by taking joint samples of equal
amount under and 25 cm distant from emitters, which were mixed into one composite sample per
greenhouse. Samples were taken every 2 - 3 weeks during the growing period. Soil texture was
determined, and the soil analysed for pH, organic matter, lime content, P-Olsen and exchangeable
cations according to the 1:2 volume water extract method, and saturated paste extract methods.
Some samples were taken shortly after irrigation and were above field capacity. These samples were
spread flat for air-drying for several hours, prior to analysis. Soil samples were lightly ground by hand,
non-sieved, and the soil put into a transparent container filled with 200 mL of demineralised water
until the total volume reached 300 mL to obtain the 1:2 (v/v) soil:water mix. Samples were left to
equilibrate for 2 hrs and the resultant slurry shaken on a horizontal shaker for 20 min at 120
horizontal movements*min-1, or stirred with a mixer for 2 min at 17 rounds*sec-1. Soil extracts
having a low filtration rate (i.e. low EC and high clay contents) were left overnight to facilitate filtration
with suction. In the filtrate EC, pH, K, Ca, Mg, NH4, Na, NO3, SO4, P, HCO3, Cl, Mn and B were
Quality control of the 1:2 volume extraction methods was assessed by:
a) comparison of the sum of the cations NH4, K, Ca, Mg, Na with the sum of the anions NO3, Cl, SO4,
HCO3, H2PO4 in equivalents;
b) comparison of the calculated EC according to the linear segment method of McNeal et al. (1970)
with the measured EC; and
c) comparison of the sum of the cations and anions in equivalents with the measured EC. Sub samples
were dried to zero % moisture to measure mass water content. Aliquots of samples were air-dried,
moistened until saturation and the EC, Na, K, Ca and Mg in the saturated paste extracts analysed.
Base N fertiliser requirements were calculated so that on average it was assumed that, 1 L of extract
in the 1:2 volume water extract originated from 0.625 L of bulk soil in the greenhouse. The required
fertigation concentrations were calculated according to Dutch fertigation system. The N-concentration

was calculated with reference to the NO3-concentration in the 1:2 volume water extract.
Concentrations of K, Mg, Ca and SO4 were calculated with reference to the ratio to NO3 and the
optimal ratios of these elements to NO3.
The mean values and coefficients of variation were calculated for duplicates of dilution, under water
density and ECs in extracts. Correlation analysis was used to test relationships between EC-measured,
EC-calculated from cation and anion contents, and EC-calculated from sum of cations and anions.
Results Composition of irrigation water: Well water contained Na, Ca, Mg, Si, Cl, SO4, HCO3, B and
sometimes NO3. With an EC31 mg*kg-1), likely due to past fertilisation practices. Exchangeable Ca
and K appeared to be different for the two soil types with apparently higher K and lower Ca in the low
lime soils than in the high lime soils. In low lime soil, exchangeable K was higher (1.2-1.4 meq/100 g)
than in the high lime soil (0.3-0.5 meq/100 g).
Soil sampling during cultivation: Under emitters in the greenhouses of the experimental sites,
elemental contents appeared to be lower than between emitters. Since the difference was large,
standardisation of the sampling procedure was considered to be important, which was why the
samples under the emitters and 25 cm from emitters were combined. Quality assessment of soil
analysis: Coefficient of variation of the duplicates was in most cases less than 8 and 4 % for
underwater density and EC, respectively. The EC calculated by the segment linear method of McNeal
was 93 % of the measured EC.
The sum of cations in meq*L-1 divided by 20.4 was equal to the measured EC in dS*m-1 Comparison
of soil extraction methods: The relationship between EC, Ca-and Na-contents in the saturated paste
and the 1:2 volume extract were significant. However, the relationship for K was not significant. The
K-values in the 1:2 volume extracts were less than 0.5 mmol*L-1 in soils with high lime content, and
more than 0.5 mmol*L-1 in soils with low lime content. The K-values in the saturated paste extracts
varied in both soil types. Dilution of soil solution in the 1:2 volume extract: Low water contents (at
field capacity) resulted, as expected, in higher dilution of soil solution than high water contents. This
was seen as an advantage, because in this way the interpretation of the EC and element contents in
the 1:2 volume extract could be equal for soils with variable water contents.
Recommendation of base fertiliser: Most greenhouses had a higher EC than was considered optimal for
tomato or cucumber growth. The high values were due to high Na, Ca, Mg, NO3, Cl and SO4 contents.
At Na > 5.0 mmol*L-1, soil leaching is recommended. However, with trickle irrigation salts are leached
from the root zone under emitters. Base N, K and Mg fertiliser input was calculated using data from
the soil analysis before planting and fertilisation, and the target values recommended by Dutch model.
For example, the average recommendation for N was 241 kg*ha-1 of N to a 25 cm depth. This roughly
corresponded with the experience of the growers. The K recommendations for the low lime soils were
considered high, i.e. was 401 kg*ha-1 of K2O at a 25 cm depth. High K fertilisation was needed since
the high lime soils had K-fixing properties and the cation adsorption complex had to be filled with K. A
recommendation for P could not be estimated from the 1:2 volume water extracts since water extracts
are considered as a non-reliable estimate of plant availability of P. Since the P-Olsen values were high,
there was no need for P fertilisation.
Fertigation recommendation: Soil nitrogen concentration was higher before planting, and after base
fertilisation, than during the growing cycle. This was caused by differences in sampling procedure,
where before planting, the whole bulk soil had been sampled and during the growing cycle, the sample
was a compound sample from under and between emitters. Under emitters, leaching lowered NO3
content, but these were often in the optimal range during the growing cycle. Only a few greenhouses
had low or high NO3 contents. When all N, K, Ca, Mg and SO4 contents were in the optimal range the
fertigation recommendation was the so-called 'standard', The K-, Ca-, Mg-, and SO4-contents in the
1:2 volume extract, were compared with the NO3-content in the 1:2 volume extract and when the
ratios were in the optimal range the recommendation was not changed. When ratios in the 1:2 volume
extract were not in the correct optimal range, the 'standard' was changed. For NO3 this was according
to a model, and the recommendation for the EC was changed from the standard in the way that the
recommended EC was higher when NO3 in the 1:2 volume extract was too low and vice versa. Since
all well water contained enough B, more Ca, and in some wells more SO4, than the standard
composition of the fertigation solution, no B, Ca or SO4 containing fertilisers were recommended.

In practice difficulties were found in that the growers did not fertilise continuously, but used
intermittent fertilisation, i.e. in some irrigation treatments, unamended well water, and in others
fertiliser diluted in water. The standard recommendation could be changed so that the fertiliser dose
application is alternated with unamended water (1:1). In this situation the optimal fertiliser
concentration should be two times higher than the standard recommendation for continuous fertiliser
dose application.
Fertiliser use: Fertiliser use appeared to be greater for tomato than for cucumber crops. Fertilisation of
tomato with high nutrient needs, in a preceding crop in the rotation, likely reduced the need of
fertiliser in the succeeding cucumber crop with lower nutrient requirements. The input of K2O in the
tomato greenhouse with soil high in lime was lower than optimal. Costs and benefits of soil analysis:
Transport of samples to a laboratory, analysis and recommendation cost were considered excessive by
producers. However, by reducing 12-15 kg*ha-1 of N-NO3 in a growing cycle, the cost of one analysis
would be returned. It appears that K fertilisation had to be increased on K-fixing soil. Higher fertiliser
is recommended than that currently used by growers to increase fruit quality and production.