Optimized fertilization using online soil nitrate data

Yonatan Yekutiel, Yuval Rotem, Shlomi Arnon, Ofer Dahan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A new soil nitrate monitoring system that was installed in a cultivated field enabled us, for the first time, to control the nitrate concentration across the soil profile. The monitoring system was installed in a full-scale agricultural greenhouse setup that was used for growing a bell pepper crop. Continuous measurements of soil nitrate concentrations were performed across the soil profile of two plots: (a) an adjusted fertigation plot, in which the fertigation regime was frequently adjusted according to the dynamic variations in soil nitrate concentration, and (b) a control plot, in which the fertigation was managed according to a predetermined fertigation schedule that is standard practice for the area. The results enabled an hourly resolution in tracking the dynamic soil nitrate concentration variations in response to daily fertigation and crop demand. Nitrate-nitrogen (N-NO3) concentrations in and below the root zone, under the control plot, reached very high levels of ∼180gppm throughout the entire season. Obviously, this concentration reflects excessive fertigation, which is far beyond the plant demand, entailing severe groundwater pollution potential. On the other hand, frequent adjustments of the fertigation regime, which were carried out under the adjusted fertigation plot, enabled control of the soil nitrate concentration around the desired concentration threshold. This enabled a substantial reduction of 38g% in fertilizer application while maintaining maximum crop yield and quality. Throughout this experiment, decision-making on the fertigation adjustments was done manually based on visual inspections of the soil's reactions to changes in the fertigation regime. Nevertheless, it is obvious that an algorithm that continuously processes the soil nitrate concentration across the soil profile and provides direct fertigation commands could act as a "fertistat"that sets the soil nutrients at a desired optimal level. Consequently, it is concluded that fertigation that is based on continuous monitoring of the soil nitrate concentration may ensure nutrient application that accounts for plant demand, improves agricultural profitability, minimizes nitrate down-leaching and significantly reduces water resource pollution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-347
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - 28 May 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


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