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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 #357184

Research Project: Precipitation and Irrigation Management to Optimize Profits from Crop Production

Location: Soil and Water Management Research

Title: Identifying advantages and disadvantages of variable rate irrigation: An updated review

item O`Shaughnessy, Susan
item Evett, Steven - Steve
item Colaizzi, Paul
item ANDRADE, MANUEL - Orise Fellow
item MAREK, THOMAS - Texas A&M Agrilife
item HEEREN, DEREK - University Of Nebraska
item LAMM, FREDDIE - Kansas State University
item LARUE, JACOB - Valmont Industries, Inc

Submitted to: Applied Engineering in Agriculture
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/15/2019
Publication Date: 12/16/2019
Publication URL:
Citation: O'Shaughnessy, S.A., Evett, S.R., Colaizzi, P.D., Andrade, M.A., Marek, T.H., Heeren, D.M., Lamm, F.R., LaRue, J.L. 2019. Identifying advantages and disadvantages of variable rate irrigation: An updated review. Applied Engineering in Agriculture. 35(6):837-852.

Interpretive Summary: As water supplies for agriculture become more limited in the U.S., growers must use water more efficiently. Variable rate irrigation (VRI) for moving sprinklers allows control of watering rates for zones along the length of the pipeline and in the direction of sprinkler travel. This technology alone has the potential to save water and prevent runoff by addressing differences in soil texture and withholding water over areas that should not be irrigated. Combining information from sensors with VRI technology increases the benefits of this technology. Such benefits include improving the profitability of overall crop yields, preventing fertilizer loss below the root zone and irrigating successfully with limited water supplied. However, the adoption rate for this technology is low. A review of the advantages and disadvantages of VRI by ARS scientists, university colleagues, and industry members could help more producers, dealers and policy makers realize the advantages, admit to the disadvantages and overcome the shortfalls of this technology. Through education and the development of best management practices, growers may overcome the barriers to VRI adoption.

Technical Abstract: Variable rate irrigation (VRI) sprinklers on mechanical move irrigation systems (center pivot or lateral move) have been commercially available since 2004. Although the number of VRI, zone or individual sprinkler, systems adopted to date is lower than expected there is a continued interest to harness this technology, especially when climate variability, regulatory nutrient management, water conservation policies, and declining water for agriculture compound the challenges involved for irrigated crop production. This paper reviews the potential advantages and potential disadvantages of VRI technology for moving sprinklers, provides updated examples on such aspects, suggests a protocol for designing and implementing VRI technology and reports on the recent advancements. The advantages of VRI technology are demonstrated in areas of agronomic, economic, environmental and risk management, while the main drawbacks to VRI technology include the complexity to successfully implement the technology and the lack of evidence that it assures better performance in net profit or water savings. Although advancements have been made on VRI technologies, to our knowledge the adoption rate has not increased; its penetration into the market will continue to depend on tangible and perceived benefits by producers.