“We were in the process of evaluating a number of systems from previous studies when we learned about PureSense solutions. Their system showed great promise and we incorporated it into our study,” Barnes says.

To date, the study is proceeding very well, he says. This year, the primary focus is on identifying a remote monitoring and decision-support system that will be economical and efficient for cotton producers nationwide.

Once the right system has been identified, project investigators will work to create a viable stress index that can be used to distinguish various drought-tolerant cotton cultivars in order to effectively identify which varieties will provide the highest yields under water stress conditions.

Speaking at a recent field day at the Pee Dee Station in South Carolina, Barnes said, “Cotton producers know water is a very precious and expensive resource.

“Studies have shown that every inch of irrigation a producer is short can reduce yield as much as 70 pounds per acre. In the past, we’ve undervalued the importance of precise irrigation scheduling.”

Cotton growers can use many different types of systems to monitor soil moisture and manage irrigation needs. The recurring challenge with many of these systems is the difficulty in understanding the data and putting information to work to produce a better crop.

High tech devices, such as neutron probes, which can be used to determine the amount of hydrogen in the soil or tracking highly complex matrix water potential, can be time-consuming and highly technical, often requiring attention at a time when growers have numerous other projects underway.

Barnes says the soil moisture monitoring system in place across the cotton belt should be ‘grower friendly’ enough for adaptation on the farm at some point in the future. 

First and foremost, the system will allow producers to get the data they need without an engineering degree.

Second, the system integrates data from four widely dispersed sites for more effective analysis.

And third, Barnes says, “The PureSense solution works with an array of sensors, which enabled us to continue using the Decagon EC Series sensors we had been happy with in a previous study.”