Computerized expert systems for various farming operations like irrigation have been around for a number of years now, but they’re continually being updated, evolving with the needs of growers.

“We want the software to meet the needs of producers,” says Staci Ingram, technician with the National Peanut Research Laboratory in Dawson, Ga., which has created several such programs, including Irrigator Pro for peanuts, cotton and corn.

“Irrigator Pro for peanuts was developed more than 20 years ago,” says Ingram. “We’re looking at taking a conservation-minded approach to irrigation by meeting the physiological needs of the plant, but not using more water than is necessary.”

This particular system is designed to manage peanut irrigation and pest management decisions. The objective is to improve economic returns for irrigated peanut production and reduce risks associated with aflatoxin, foreign materials, immaturity, off-flavor, chemical residues, and negative environmental impacts.

Irrigation recommendations, explains Ingram, are based upon more than 25 years of scientific research data and information. To begin the program, growers enter field data including planting date, variety planted, previous crop, soil type and irrigation capacity.

Then, they place a digital minimum/maximum soil thermometer in the field, in the row, a few weeks after the crop has emerged. They also place a rain gauge in this same area as well as outside the pivot to record rainfall. The sensors in the field should be marked with flags because they will be difficult to find later in the season.

Users of the program begin by taking soil temperature readings a couple of times per week and asking for the recommendation which will advise if and how much to irrigate or when to check soil temperatures again.

Generally, irrigation recommendations are made to maintain soil temperatures and water in the optimum ranges. The program generates graphs showing data in relation to optimum and minimum zones, helping diagnose problems that may occur.