Scarce water resources frequently limit crop production in semi-arid lands. Drip irrigation may constitute a method for sagacious management of water resources, but there is still limited information on its use for sugar beet crop in Mediterranean environments. The present study was conducted to determine the effect of irrigation on sucrose accumulation and root yield, as well as on sugar beet physiological responses, and to compare drip and low-pressure sprinkler (high efficiency) irrigation performances for sugar quality. As the main scope of the study was to give indications to allow water saving, the comparison focused on the best irrigation method when a similar amount of water was applied. Sugar beets were grown in an experimental field site in southern Italy (Molise Region) for two consecutive growing seasons (1999/2000 and 2000/2001). The water applied ranged from 50, 75, and 100% of the estimated evapotranspiration (ET); unirrigated sugar beets were taken as control plants. In both years, harvest was completed in two periods. Increasing volume of water replaced was advantageous for crop performances, and yield and physiological responses of sugar beets drip irrigated with 75% of estimated ET matched in most cases those of low-pressure sprinkler irrigated with 100% of estimated ET, resulting in potential 25% of water volume saving. In general, drip irrigation influenced positively many of the considered physiological and technological parameters, as compared to low-pressure sprinkler irrigation. Differences in root production and sugar quality between the two harvest periods were not significant. Results indicate that (1) increasing the amount of water applied gives benefits in terms of sugar beet root yield and sucrose accumulation, (2) drip irrigation (even applied every-other-furrow) appears to be consistently advantageous with respect to low-pressure sprinkler irrigation for sugar beet performances in semi-arid environments, (3) there are indications that suggest sugar beet growers should harvest in advance (of traditional harvest dates). # 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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