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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: IMPROVING SOIL AND WATER MANAGEMENT PRACTICES IN CROPPING AND INTEGRATED CROP-LIVESTOCK SYSTEMS

Location: Soil and Water Management Research

Title: Estimation of Soil Water Content and Evapotranspiration of Dryland Crops Using Neutron Moisture Meter

Authors
item Moroke, Scott - GOVT. OF BOTSWANA
item Schwartz, Robert
item Brown, Kirk - RETIRED
item Makore, Joshuah - GOVT. OF BOTSWANA

Submitted to: Meeting Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: July 9, 2006
Publication Date: July 9, 2006
Citation: Moroke, S.T., Schwartz, R.C., Brown, K.W., Makore, J. 2006. Estimation of soil water content and evapotranspiration of dryland crops using neutron moisture meter. In: Proceedings of the FAO/IAEA Workshop: Use of Nuclear Techniques in Addressing Soil-Water-Nutrient Issues for Sustainable Agricultural Production. World Congress of Soil Science, July 9-14, 2006, Philadelphia, PA. Session 1-13.

Interpretive Summary: In semi-arid regions, crop yield is often more correlated with soil water availability than any other factor. Thus, the determination of seasonal soil water use by crops is important in evaluating the yield potential of alternative dryland cropping strategies, crop species, and varieties. Soil water use by drought tolerant crops (cowpea (black-eyed pea), sorghum, and sunflower) was estimated using the water balance approach. Crop water use was estimated for two tillage treatments in Bushland, Texas (no tillage and stubble-mulch tillage) and three tillage treatments in Sebele, Botswana (single disc, double disc, and mouldboard plow). Seasonal water use was influenced by the crop, location, and year but not by tillage. At Bushland, Texas, greater sorghum grain yield was achieved under no tillage as compared to stubble-mulch tillage but with the same amount of soil water use. Soil water was used more efficiently by sorghum under no tillage because of greater rooting depths and reduced evaporation.

Technical Abstract: In semi-arid regions, crop yield is often more correlated with soil water availability than any other soil or meteorological factor. Thus, quantification of soil water depletion by crops is important in estimating seasonal water use and evaluating alternative dryland cropping strategies, crop species, and varieties. The purpose of this study was to estimate soil water and evapotranspiration (ET) for several crops and tillage systems under semiarid conditions in Bushland, Texas (USA) and Sebele, Botswana. Evapotranspiration was estimated using the water balance approach with a neutron moisture meter to determine changes in soil water storage. Precipitation was measured at the sites and runoff and drainage were assumed negligible. In Bushland, ET was estimated for cowpea [Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.], grain sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench], and sunflower (Halianthus annuus (L.)] under no tillage (NT) and stubble-mulch tillage (SMT) systems in a clay loam (Torrertic Paleustoll). In Sebele, ET was estimated for cowpea and grain sorghum in a sandy loam (Typic Haplustalf) with disc (SD) cultivation, double disc (DD) cultivation, and mouldboard ploughing (MP). Soil water contents were measured with a neutron moisture meter (NMM) to a depth of 2.3 m in Bushland and 0.8 m in Sebele. Both probes were calibrated in-situ at each of the sites. In Texas, soil water depletion by sorghum and sunflower were similar and extended to soil depths greater than 2.0 m. However, soil water depletion for cowpea was limited to less than 1.5 m soil depth. In Sebele, soil water depletion by cowpea and sorghum were similar probably because of the greater rainfall received during the growing season (537 mm) as compared with Bushland (220 mm). Estimated ET for two growing seasons in Bushland averaged 178, 254, and 248 mm for cowpea, sorghum, and sunflower, respectively. In Sebele, seasonal ET averaged 296 and 307 mm for cowpea and sorghum, respectively. At both sites, seasonal ET was not significantly influenced by tillage systems. In Bushland, grain yield of cowpea and sorghum exhibited a positive linear relationship with ET. Despite the lack of tillage effects on ET, sorghum grain yield was significantly (P<0.05) greater for NT as compared with SMT in Bushland. This suggests greater crop transpiration under NT which was offset by reduced soil water evaporation. Cowpea grain yield also increased in response to ET, but was unaffected by tillage. In Sebele, sorghum grain yield ranged from 1700 to 2900 kg ha-1 and was not significantly influenced by tillage treatments or ET. Other factors such as slow infiltration rates, small soil water holding capacity, limited rooting depth, or fertility status of this sandy loam soil was limiting yield.

Last Modified: 10/1/2014
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