Submitted to: Agricultural Water Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/6/2021
Publication Date: 3/12/2021
Citation: Vories, E.D., Sudduth, K.A. 2021. Determining sensor-based field capacity for irrigation scheduling. Agricultural Water Management. 250. Article 106860. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agwat.2021.106860.
Interpretive Summary: Irrigated agriculture is a major consumer of freshwater and producers have become increasingly reliant on irrigation to ensure adequate yields and reduce production risks. Information about the soil’s water holding capacity is needed to determine the amount of water that can be safely removed by crops. ARS scientists from Portageville and Columbia, Missouri collected soil water measurements during the 2017 through 2019 growing seasons at the University of Missouri Fisher Delta Research Center near Portageville to provide guidance on how best to use soil moisture sensor data for irrigation management. Coarser textured soils were much wetter after 24 h than expected based on published information and in some cases, even a small distance between sensors had a large effect on the measurements. Soil apparent electrical conductivity was highly correlated to the sensor values, which could result in faster and less expensive ways to estimate water holding capacity. The research is continuing, and these findings will be used by cotton producers to improve irrigation efficiency in the US and worldwide.
Technical Abstract: Irrigated agriculture is a major consumer of freshwater and acreage of irrigated land has increased as producers have become increasingly reliant on irrigation to ensure adequate yields and reduce production risks. Information about the soil’s field capacity, or the water content after a saturated soil has drained for at least 24 hours, is needed to determine the soil’s readily available water, or the amount of water that can be safely removed by plants. To address the challenges associated with using soil water sensors in highly variable soils, soil water measurements were included in ongoing cotton irrigation studies during the 2017 through 2019 growing seasons at the University of Missouri Fisher Delta Research Center near Portageville. Sensor-based field capacity values were compared among multiple commercially available sensors. Time-domain reflectometry sensors (Acclima TDR 315) were installed at four depths and five locations each of the three years. In addition, resistance-type sensors (Irrometer Watermark 200SS) were installed at five depths and five locations for two years. The goal was to provide guidance on how best to use soil moisture sensor data for irrigation management. Although water continued to move in the profile for more than 24 h after saturation, the average change between 24 and 48 h at each observed depth was < 0.015 m3 m-3. Observed values for coarser textured soils were much wetter after 24 h than expected based on published field capacity values and in some cases, even a small difference in sensor location had a large effect on the observed field capacity. Furthermore, soil apparent electrical conductivity was highly correlated to measured field capacity, which could result in a much faster and less expensive way to estimate field capacity compared to collecting and analyzing soil cores. These findings demonstrate that the application of soil moisture sensors for irrigation management is site specific, and differences can be observed over short distances within a field. The research is continuing to better meet the needs of agricultural producers, consultants, research and extension personnel, and others for information to improve irrigation management.