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Journal/Book Title/Conference

ASA, CSSA, and SSSA International Annual Meeting


Salt Lake City, UT

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Steady-state nutrient management is essential in hydroponic culture. Determination of an appropriate refill solution is attained using the principle of mass balance. Optimizing the ratio of nutrient elements and refill solution concentrations requires an understanding of the ratio of nutrients in tissue to water, which is measured as water use efficiency (WUE). This ratio is then multiplied by the desired concentration of nutrients in leaf tissue to determine the refill solution composition. Deep-flow hydroponics enables constant monitoring of solution parameters and root health. We have achieved a steady-state nitrogen concentration in solution by using an automated pH control system that adds a solution of 50 mM nitric acid and 200 mM ammonium sulfate. The pH remains stable throughout the life cycle as roots release a similar ratio of protons and hydroxide ions to balance uptake of either ammonium or nitrate. Daily monitoring of electrical conductivity (EC) guides adjustment of the refill solution concentration. A variable WUE and water to nutrient uptake ratio among species necessitates custom refill solutions. In our preliminary studies, wheat (Triticum aestivum) has a moderate WUE (3 g L-1) but ceases substantial nutrient uptake late in the lifecycle and the EC thus increases over time, causing nutrient accumulation in solution. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) also has a moderate WUE (3 g L-1), and the EC of the solution remains stable. Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) has a high WUE (6 g L-1), causing reduced EC and nutrient solution depletion. Monitoring solution compositions has allowed us to optimize the refill solution and acid addition concentration among species and lifecycle stages.