Soil and water

Research Shows Importance of Good Soil Moisture for Wild Blueberries – UMaine News

Orono, Maine – Wild blueberries are one of Maine’s most iconic and important native cash crops. New research shows that to help wild blueberries thrive in all kinds of conditions, proper soil moisture management is even more essential than previously thought, especially over the long term.

According to a UMaine study conducted in conjunction with Jasper Wyman & Son, a Milbridge-based wild blueberry company, wild blueberries, which are considered a relatively drought-tolerant crop, are more susceptible to dry water conditions. for a long period. The study, published in the journal Climate, highlights the importance of effective plant water management, especially as global warming is expected to dry out Maine’s soil.

The study examined changes in monthly drought conditions for 89 wild blueberry fields in Washington and Hancock counties, Maine, over a 71-year period. Researchers examined how changes in drought were related to the health of wild blueberry vegetation in the same areas over a 21-year period, from 2000 to 2020, which were measured using satellite remote sensing data. of Google Earth Engine. The researchers also analyzed how water conditions affected the yield of wild blueberries using data from the United States Department of Agriculture and Jasper Wyman & Son.

The results showed that drought has not increased significantly in these areas over the past seven decades, but the areas are warming rapidly and therefore soil moisture is expected to decrease in the future due to increased evaporation and crop water loss. . Although the study did not investigate rainfall frequency, it did show that long-term water conditions were more likely to affect wild blueberry crop vigor and yield than short-term conditions. It also showed that drought conditions affected fields that were not irrigated more than those that were.

“Wild blueberry fields must be well prepared and introduced to effective irrigation management systems to mitigate the impacts of predicted future warming conditions.” says Kallol Barai, a master’s student in the School of Biology and Ecology who led the study.

Maintaining the right amount of water in the soil of wild blueberry fields is tricky, however, because the soil does not hold moisture evenly, even within the same field. Thus, the researchers highlighted the importance of precision irrigation systems – which use technology to schedule and target watering at the right time and place – in wild blueberry fields as a way to effectively manage water needs. crop water.

“By adopting precision agriculture, wild blueberry fields can be divided into management zones that each receive customized management inputs. Precision irrigation management requires regular monitoring of crop water stress to predict crop water needs in real time. To do this, future research should focus on developing effective water stress monitoring techniques specifically for wild blueberries,” Barai said.

Contact: Sam Schipani, [email protected]