There is no substitute for information. The more you have, the easier it is to make informed decisions.
That may be especially true for managing irrigation in an increasingly expensive and an increasingly delicate environment for moisture management.
“It’s a balance,” says Saleh Taghvaeian, Oklahoma State University water resources specialist.
“Apply too much water and farmers waste money,” Taghvaeian said during the second annual Oklahoma Irrigation Conference back in August at Fort Cobb. He says producers also have to consider the environmental effects of watering too much. “But water too little and you lose yield.”
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Moisture sensors provide data to schedule efficient irrigation. Taghvaeian said several options offer practical solutions. Weather data, such as evapotranspiration rate, help producers analyze crop water demand. “We have 120 Mesonet stations across the state,” he said. Moisture sensors also play a role. He said soil moisture sensors and a leaf water potential sensor are two possibilities. “Also, a canopy temperature sensor is promising.”
Taghvaeian said farmers need to understand crop needs, especially the permanent wilting point (PWP). After the plant reaches the PWP it is no longer able to withdraw moisture. “Irrigate before plants reach the PWP,” he said.
Understand field capacity
Producers also have to understand field capacity, the amount of moisture the soil will hold before it begins to run off. “Consider the field capacity ratio to permanent wilting point. It, too, is a balance. Soil moisture sensors show where the moisture level is.
“Start irrigation before soil is too dry and stop irrigating before water is lost. Adjust irrigation accordingly.”
He said producers have numerous options to monitor moisture in fields. Packages may include the sensors, hardwire, water maps, software and USB adapters to transfer data to computers.”
Installing sensors and using other moisture monitoring and crop demand technology gives producers information to improve irrigation management and the opportunity to save money, conserve water and improve crop health.