Crop irrigation uses more than 70% of the world's water, and thus, improving irrigation efficiency is decisive to sustain the food demand from a fast-growing world population. This objective may be accomplished by cultivating more water-efficient crop species and/or through the application of efficient irrigation systems, which includes the implementation of a suitable method for precise scheduling. At the farm level, irrigation is generally scheduled based on the grower's experience or on the determination of soil water balance (weather-based method). An alternative approach entails the measurement of soil water status. Expensive and sophisticated root zone sensors (RZS), such as neutron probes, are available for the use of soil and plant scientists, while cheap and practical devices are needed for irrigation management in commercial crops. The paper illustrates the main features of RZS' (for both soil moisture and salinity) marketed for the irrigation industry and discusses how such sensors may be integrated in a wireless network for computer-controlled irrigation and used for innovative irrigation strategies, such as deficit or dual-water irrigation. The paper also consider the main results of recent or current research works conducted by the authors in Tuscany (Italy) on the irrigation management of container-grown ornamental plants, which is an important agricultural sector in Italy.
Keywords: Dielectric soil moisture sensors; irrigation efficiency; irrigation scheduling; smart water application technology; soil matric potential; tensiometer; wireless sensor network.