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Why Monitor Soil Moisture?
Monitoring soil moisture can help growers manage soil moisture. Choosing the right times and the right amounts to irrigate can lead to:
better product quality
improved plant vigour
reduction in disease
more effective use of water (water efficiency)
reduced irrigation costs
Water and nutrients are used most efficiently when an irrigation event applies only the amount of water the crop needs and the soil can hold. Considering the time it takes to irrigate, it makes sense to spend time taking soil moisture measurements to improve irrigation decisions.
Selecting a Monitoring Instrument
The two main points to consider in selecting an instrument to monitor soil moisture are:
How will the soil moisture information be used in the farm operation?
What is the most practical way to collect the information?
Use Table 1 to review the variety of instruments available for collecting soil moisture information.
Soil moisture monitoring costs range from $100¨C$3,000+ per monitoring location, depending on the type (manual versus automated) and number of instruments. Generally, one monitoring location is used per field, but multiple locations may be necessary to provide information from large fields with variable conditions or management practices. More monitoring means more information on which to base irrigation decisions. Considering the cost of irrigation (fuel and labour), it makes sense to invest in soil moisture instruments that increase the effectiveness of irrigation applications.
The amount of time it takes to monitor soil moisture depends on the amount of information required and whether you are using manual or automated instruments. Collect data between irrigation events and more frequently (daily) as the chosen irrigation trigger point approaches. Check data during or after an irrigation event to verify if the right amount of water was applied.
Using manual instruments requires visiting the monitoring location(s) and recording the readings. Someone already walking the fields regularly (i.e., a field scout) could do this. Making graphs of the readings takes additional time. Many of the automated instruments can be set up to send readings directly to a remote computer, and some will automatically produce graphs.
Allow time for calibrating soil moisture instruments at the start of the growing season.
Installing soil moisture monitoring equipment at the beginning of the season can take several hours, depending on the number of instruments. It is important to make this job a priority as soon as the crop is planted. OMAFRA experience shows that many growers start irrigating too late. Soil moisture monitoring can demonstrate when irrigation should begin, and, equally important, when it should end.