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ARS Home » Plains Area » Bushland, Texas » Conservation and Production Research Laboratory » Soil and Water Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #313711

Title: Site-specific variable rate irrigation a means to enhance water use efficiency

item O`Shaughnessy, Susan
item Evett, Steven - Steve
item ANDRADE, ALEJANDRO - Oak Ridge Institute For Science And Education (ORISE)
item WORKNEH, FEKEDE - Texas Agrilife Research
item PRICE, JACOB - Texas Agrilife Research
item RUSH, CHARLES - Texas Agrilife Research

Submitted to: Transactions of the ASABE
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/22/2015
Publication Date: 2/23/2016
Publication URL:
Citation: Oshaughnessy, S.A., Evett, S.R., Andrade, A., Workneh, F., Price, J.A., Rush, C.M. 2016. Site-specific variable rate irrigation a means to enhance water use efficiency. Transactions of the ASABE. 59(1):239-249. doi 10.13031/trans.59.11165.

Interpretive Summary: Due to the current constraints of limited water supplies for agriculture and regulatory pressures, producers are searching for ways to conserve water while still maximizing crop yields and profits. New technologies including sensors adapted for the outdoors, wireless communication, and dependable variable rate irrigation systems can help improve the efficiency of water applied to a field. The challenge is to develop a commercial system that can adapt to changes in crop water demand to maintain a profitable yield, and prevent under- or over-irrigations. ARS scientists from Bushland, Texas have patented a system that automatically controls irrigation management based on data acquired from different types of sensors, and are working to commercialize the technology. This system could be used to conserve water within a field that has varying types of soils or slopes. Also, the utility of the system to vary water applications to areas within the field that have become damaged due to disease or pests was tested in cooperation with Texas A&M AgriLife Research. Finally the system could also be used to apply slightly less amounts of water without reducing yields.

Technical Abstract: The majority of irrigated cropland in the US is watered with sprinkler irrigation systems. These systems are inherently more efficient in distributing water than furrow or flood irrigation. Appropriate system design of sprinkler irrigation equipment, application methods, and farming practices (e.g. furrow diking) enhance crop water use efficiency by minimizing irrigation losses and improving soil water storage. For years, the paradigm for best irrigation management practices included uniform application over an entire field, even though abiotic (soils, slope, aspect, etc.) and biotic (insect pressure, plant disease) factors often cause spatial variations in water use and yield potential. However, emerging technologies such as wireless communication coupled with soil water and plant sensors, commercially available variable rate irrigation (VRI) equipment, and the development of algorithms for computational data processing are shifting this paradigm towards variable rate management as a means to enhance crop WUE. This paper focuses on the potential of site-specific variable rate irrigation management (SS-VRIM) as a tool for enhancing water use efficiency, and the challenges encountered.