Paul Colaizzi, USDA-ARS research agricultural engineer, says irrigation systems also make a difference in moisture management. He’s studied LESA (Low Elevation Spray Application), MESA (Mid Elevation Spray Application), LEPA (Low Energy Precision Application) and SDI (Subsurface Drip Irrigation) systems in cotton and compared those with spray irrigation.

“LEPA resulted in a 15 percent increase in lint yield compared with MESA and LESA. With drip irrigation (SDI) lint yield increased 30 percent compared with MESA and LESA. We’ve tested a range of irrigation rates, from dryland to near full irrigation,” he said.

“Cover (residue) results in greater water penetration. That means less soil loss and more water for the plant.”

He said 2012 will be the first year of irrigation system comparison data on winter wheat.

 Susan O’Shaughnessy, USDA-ARS research agricultural engineer, said wireless sensors improve remote sensing capabilities by monitoring crop status and soil moisture over a large area. “Infrared technology is not new,” she said, “but wireless is somewhat new and the combination of wireless sensor networks for monitoring crop status over an entire field and controlling variable rate irrigation equipment to deliver irrigation where it is needed is new.”

Steve Evett, a USDA-ARS research soil scientist, said soil water sensors are useful tools to help schedule irrigation. “It is common for producers to over-irrigate,” he said. “With the right sensors, we can determine plant moisture needs.”

Evett and his cooperators have compared most existing soil water sensors and can recommend ones accurate enough to save water when scheduling irrigations. “And,” he said “we are developing new even more accurate sensors for irrigation management.”