Irrigation Scheduling and Soil Moisture Monitoring

By , On , In Best Practices
Young Apple orchard with drip irrigation system for trees.

Our Growers Support Team has performed multiple field visits over the last month and has identified many containing irrigation deficits. Each field may have received multiple rainfalls but on average is likely to fall short of the rate of evaporation and transpiration (ET).

This needs to be correctly managed, as a lack of soil moisture in turn results in a lack of nutrients for the plants. Effective irrigation management is key and can help to improve yield, fruit quality, conserve water and energy and reduce nutrient leaching. Moisture is also important to allow the granular fertilizer to enter the ground. This blog aims to provide helpful information around this topic, to better assist all our growers in the Valley.

Our team, firstly, recommends that all growers evaluate the need to refill and maintain soil moisture in the root profile:

  1. Fill in the profile before the warmest season kicks in
  2. Most irrigation systems cannot catch up later in the season if they do not start with a full profile
  3. Easiest way is to dig a small hole around 30-50cm to confirm the moisture levels in the root profile
  4. Use climate stations around you, to measure irrigation requirements

Climate stations in the Okanagan Valley actively provide growers with daily data. Data that is being shared with monitoring tools and environments are all there to support growers. Some of these include:

  • BC-DAS for SIR and monitoring
  • Evaporation Data
  • Historical Climate Data
  • Climate Forecast
  • Irrigation Scheduling Calculators to additionally assist you

Certain available tools will also use the climate data and can be of assistance to growers. These are:

  • DAS- Decision Aid Systems. Information can be found here.
  • Farmwest’s Evapotranspiration. Information can be found here.
  • BC Water Calculator. Information can be found here.

Now let’s look at soil moisture sensors. These help to measure the amount of moisture in the soil and are an important aspect of irrigation management. If you have not, make sure you’re installing sensors now. Sensors can be either stationary or portable. We recommend the Watermark soil sensors and Irrometer Tensiometers. Please work with your Growers Support team to evaluate which is best suited for you.

Sensor Installment and Placement

Once you’ve chosen the sensors that are right for you, they should be installed at varying depths and locations throughout your field. Installation methods vary, depending on the sensor you’ve chosen, so it’s always a good idea to check the manufacturer’s instructions before attempting installation. It’s important to remember that some fields can contain both heavy and light textured soils and that each soil type should be separately monitored.

When placing sensors, remember:

  1. Place sensors away from high slopes, irregular heights and depressions
  2. Stationery sensors should be placed between crops, at varying depths and in direct contact with the soil
  3. Make sure they are flagged/marked, to avoid accidental damage occurring during field work

Other Recommendations for Consideration

  • Always use data loggers to accurately store your data
  • Read and record your sensors every few days
  • When irrigating your soil, always consider and make room for potential seasonal rainfall
  • One size never fits all; when in doubt- always reach out for support

Once you have an accurate understanding of the moisture in your soil, proper irrigation management can take place. For any assistance with soil moisture monitoring or irrigation scheduling, please reach out to our Growers Support Team who will happily answer your questions and provide support.

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