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Optimizing Irrigation and Fertigation for Watermelon Production in Southern Indiana

thesis
posted on 2024-06-22, 21:20 authored by Emerson Luna EspinozaEmerson Luna Espinoza

Watermelon [Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.) Matsum. & Nakai] is one of the world's top three most consumed fruits. Indiana cultivates approximately 7,000 acres of watermelons every year, ranking 6th in the nation. More than 70% of this production is concentrated in and around Knox County, making Southern Indiana a key region for watermelon production in the States. Despite its significance, watermelon production faces many challenges, including erratic rainfall patterns exacerbated by climate change. Enhanced irrigation management has emerged as a critical strategy in mitigating negative environmental effects and in optimizing fertilizer applications.

Currently, Southern Indiana farmers have incorporated different irrigation and fertilization practices into watermelon production, yet the effects on production outcomes remain poorly understood. To bridge this gap in knowledge, this study aims to explore the effects of existing practices on watermelon yield and develop irrigation guidelines for optimal production in the region. The experiment was conducted at Southwest Purdue Agricultural Center, Vincennes, Indiana, in 2022 and 2023. Four treatments were applied: High Irrigation, Low Irrigation, No Irrigation, and Fertigation. Fertigation treatment received the same water application as the High Irrigation treatment. Fertilizers were applied pre-plant in the High, Low, and No irrigation treatments, while frequent fertigation was applied to the Fertigation Treatment. Soil moisture sensors measuring volumetric water content were used for irrigation decisions. In 2022, the irrigation thresholds were set at 15% water depletion at 1-ft depth for High Irrigation and Fertigation treatment, and 2-ft depth for Low Irrigation. In 2023, the irrigation threshold for Low Irrigation was adjusted to 40% water depletion at 1-ft depth.

While soil moisture levels in the bed at the different depths varied notably among treatments, no significant differences in yield by weight were observed. The minimal impact of irrigation on watermelon yield suggests that rainfall provides sufficient water, preventing yield-reducing stress. However, the Fertigation and High Irrigation treatments yielded more fruit than the Low Irrigation and No Irrigation treatments. The dry periods in both years coincided with the watermelon fruit setting stages that may have contributed to the lower fruit set in the Low Irrigation and No Irrigation treatments. Fertigation showed a higher early yield than the other treatments in 2022. Analysis of soil and tissue nitrogen levels indicated that sole nitrogen application before planting could result in excessive soil nitrogen levels during vegetative growth. This excess nitrogen might delay flowering and harvest. This project offers insights into enhancing irrigation and fertilization practices for watermelon production in southern Indiana.

History

Degree Type

  • Master of Science

Department

  • Horticulture

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Wenjing Guan

Additional Committee Member 2

Elizabeth Maynard

Additional Committee Member 3

James Camberato

Additional Committee Member 4

Younsuk Dong

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