The growing scarcity and competition for water resources requires the urgent implementation of measures to ensure their rational use. Farmers need affordable irrigation tools that allow them to take advantage of scientific know-how to improve water use efficiency in their common irrigation practices. The aim of this study is to test under field conditions, and adjust where required, an automated irrigation system that allows the establishment of regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) strategies in a stone fruit orchard. For this, an automated device with an algorithm which combines water-balance-based irrigation scheduling with a feedback adjustment mechanism using 15 capacitive sensors for continuous soil moisture measurement was used. The tests were carried out in 2016 and 2017 in Vegas Bajas del Guadiana (Extremadura, Spain) on an experimental plot of ‘Red Beaut’, an early-maturing Japanese plum cultivar. Three irrigation treatments were established: control, RDI and automatic. The control treatment was scheduled to cover crop water needs, a postharvest deficit irrigation (40% crop evapotranspiration (ETc)) strategy was applied in the RDI treatment, while the Automatic treatment simulated the RDI but without human intervention. After two years of testing, the automated system was able to “simulate” the irrigation scheduling programmed by a human expert without the need for human intervention.
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