Strategies to decrease water drainage and nitrate emission from soilless cultures of greenhouse tomato

D. Massa, L. Incrocci, R. Maggini, G. Carmassi, C.A. Campiotti, A. Pardossi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

59 Citations (Scopus)


In the spring-summer season of 2005 and 2006, we explored the influence of three fertigation strategies (A-C) on the water and nitrogen use efficiency of semi-closed rockwool culture of greenhouse tomato conducted using saline water (NaCl concentration of 9.5 mol m-3). The strategies under comparison were the following: (A) crop water uptake was compensated by refilling the mixing tank with nutrient solution at full strength (with the concentrations of macronutrients equal or close to the corresponding mean uptake concentrations as determined in previous studies) and the recirculating nutrient solution was flushed out whenever its electrical conductivity (EC) surpassed 4.5 dS m-1due to the accumulation of NaCl; (B) the refill nutrient solution had a variable EC in order to maintain a target value of 3.0 dS m-1; due to the progressive accumulation of NaCl, the EC and macronutrient concentrations of the refill nutrient solution tended to decrease with time, thus resulting in a progressive nutrient depletion in the recycling water till N-NO3-content dropped below 1.0 mol m-3, when the nutrient solution was replaced; (C) likewise Strategy A, but when EC reached 4.5 dS m-1, crop water uptake was compensated with fresh water only in order to reduce N-NO3-concentration below 1.0 mol m-3before discharge. In 2005 an open (free-drain) system (Strategy D), where the plants were irrigated with full-strength nutrient solution without drainage water recycling, was also tested in order to verify the possible influence of NaCl accumulation and/or nutrient depletion in the root zone on crop performance. In the semi-closed systems conducted following strategies A, B or C, the nutrient solution was replaced, respectively, 10, 14 and 7 times in 2005, and in 19, 24 and 14 times in 2006, when the cultivation lasted 167 days instead of 84 days in 2005. In both years, there were no important differences in fruit yield and quality among the strategies under investigation. Strategy C produced the best results in terms of water use and drainage, while Strategy B was the most efficient procedure with regard to nitrogen use. In contrast to strategies A and D, the application of strategies B and C minimized nitrogen emissions and also resulted in N-NO3-concentrations in the effluents that were invariably lower than the limit (approximately 1.42 mol m-3) imposed to the N-NO3-concentration of wastewater discharged into surface water by the current legislation associated to the implementation of European Nitrate Directive in Italy. © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)971 - 980
Number of pages10
JournalAgricultural Water Management
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes

Cite this