Nutrient deficiency in plants can impact your bottom line. Delivering the right nutrients at the right time can make or break a grow operation. Let's examine how nutrient deficiency in plants can be prevented through intelligent automation.
Deficiencies can manifest in the form of plant discoloration, stunting, and distortion as a result of several factors, including: soil that is overly compacted and hinders root growth, soil that is too wet and has poor drainage, too much fertilizer, which can cause sodium damage, soil with pH levels that are too acidic or too alkaline, and poor levels of macronutrients (e.g., potassium, calcium, sulfur, magnesium, nitrogen) or micronutrients (e.g., copper, boron, zinc, iron, manganese). Intelligent, automated nutrient dosing is the answer to inaccurate fertilizer application.
Automating nutrient dosing
Auto-dosing systems manage your grow operation by measuring pH, water temperature, and electrical conductivity (EC) levels while automatically adding different nutrient mixes to adjust pH and EC levels to optimum levels. Monitoring EC is vital because the amount of salts in the system correlates directly to the level of nutrients dissolved in the water.
There are a few requirements for proper nutrient dosing, including equipment, thus a dosing system is needed that dissolves or dilutes fertilizer concentrates to their proper feed strength and a means of getting those nutrients into the irrigation system. In terms of application, a way to uniformly and consistently deliver feed solutions to the root zone throughout the crop is preferred. Consistency, having the best equipment and means of application is useless unless you also have a consistent and repeatable method for dissolving/diluting fertilizer concentrates.
Types of nutrient dosing
There are two main dosing methods used in grow operations: dilute tanks and in-line injection. Although dilute tanks offer the simplest form of nutrient dosing, these systems are costly. Only one formulation/concentration is available at any given time unless you invest in multiple large tanks. Because fertilizers are premixed and stored in a tank until needed, if you need to adjust the formulation/concentration, you must wait until the tank needs to be refilled, wasting precious resources.
In-line injection offers more flexibility and customization and is the most popular form of nutrient delivery. These systems work by continuously "injecting" concentrated stock solutions into the water stream as irrigation takes place. Depending on the injector's design, mixing occurs downstream in the irrigation system or a mixing tank. In an automated in-line injection system, the number of nutrients delivered will vary based on flow rates and sensor feedback on EC and pH levels. One of the most significant benefits of an automated in-line injection system is that it can automatically alter the solution to adjust feed recipes, change nutrient concentration for varied crops, or alter feed strength as the day goes on.
The benefits of automation
Implementing a smart, automated dosing system has crucial benefits, including eliminating the need to manually assess whether your crops are getting the right nutrients at the right time. This allows you to optimize labor, and the savings add up quickly. In addition to saving on labor costs, you'll also remove human error from the equation.
A few reasons you should consider a nutrient dosing system include:
- Adjust or change pH regularly because of crop needs
- Change pH and types of water used
- Monitor and record nutrient dosing information to create optimal growing environments for specific crops
- Protect against crop shock occurrences
- Avoid crop loss and boost yields by working smarter
Automated dosing systems are great for large and small operations, especially because smaller systems often experience greater nutrient level fluctuations than larger systems.