Varying or uncertain soil moisture levels in the growing season under a changing climate has been considered as one of the factors that contribute to the steady declining yield in Prince Edward Island (PEI). In an effort to find ways of dealing with drier conditions caused by climate change, several potato growers have adopted supplemental irrigation on a portion of their crop with varied results. However, with climate change, precipitation during the growing season is less frequent with higher intensity and unpredictable patterns. Irrigation has allowed growers to withstand periods of drought at critical stages of the crop growth while still relying on natural rainfall to provide most of the crops water requirements. The varied yield responses to supplemental irrigation implies that current irrigations practices may cause over-irrigation or under irrigation rather than providing optimal watering to dissolve fertilizers and favoring the plant growth. Optimising soil moisture for crop growth involves matching the supply of water to crop water demand in time and space. In this humid region, optimal water supplies should correspond to precipitation supplemented by irrigation. The uncertainty with precipitation can cause over- or under-irrigation. Additionally, irrigation can play an important role in applied fertilizer efficiency. During drought periods, fertilizer cannot dissolve without water and therefore is not accessible to the plants, potentially causing large amounts of leaching to the ground and surface. Overall, this research aims at creating agroecosystems that are more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
This project is a component of the Living Labs Initiative and is led by the Prince Edward Island Department of Agriculture. Research activities are conducted on farms in the Dunk River, Kensington North and Souris Watersheds, and at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Harrington Research Farm. Prince Edward Island is characterized by iron rich soil which raises specific challenges for agriculture. This soil is prone to weathering, erosion, and nutrient leaching. Thus, research activities have been conducted to determine if it is possible to control nitrate leaching into the groundwater by providing adequate soil moisture over the growing season using irrigation. This research emphasizes the utilization of wireless soil moisture monitoring equipment that can communicate with potato producers to let them know when soil conditions are suitable to irrigate. These can also be used to inform when soil moisture is sufficient, and irrigation is not needed. The ultimate goal is to keep the soil moisture in the optimum range so the crop can effectively use all the nitrogen fertilizer applied.