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Irrigation Scheduling Crucial During a Drought

Irrigation Scheduling: Crucial During a Drought

by Bradley J. Younker, Agricultural Engineer
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Hays, Kansas

Irrigation scheduling becomes extremely crucial when faced with extreme drought conditions as much of western and southern Kansas has faced in recent years.

Irrigation scheduling is simply knowing when and how much irrigation water to apply. Effective irrigation scheduling helps maximize profit while minimizing inputs such as water and energy.

There are several factors that affect irrigation scheduling. Type of crop, stage of crop development, soil properties, soil-water relationships, availability of water supply, and finally weather conditions (temperature, wind, rainfall, and others) have a critical role when determining effective irrigation scheduling. Evapotranspiration (commonly known as ET) is the term used to describe the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from the ground to the atmosphere. Corn ET values during the hot summer months can run as high as a half inch per day.

There are several methods and types of technologies that can help producers track their irrigation schedule. They range from just keeping well output readings to using new technologies that measure soil moisture remotely and ET by using the canopy temperature. KanSched, developed by Kansas State Research and Extension, is a simple and user-friendly computer program that can be quickly learned and easily used by irrigators to develop an irrigation schedule. It uses daily and field inputs to calculate ET. The field inputs include soil characteristics, emergence, maximum rooting depth, crop characteristics, and crop coefficients. The daily inputs include reference ET, rainfall, and soil water value. After inputting the field and daily information into the program, KanSched will automatically update the root zone water level and develop a seasonal management chart that plots soil water values, rainfall, and irrigation amount.

For more information about irrigation and irrigation scheduling, or natural resources conservation, please contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office or conservation district office. The office is located at your local U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center (listed in the telephone book under United States Government or on the internet at offices.usda.gov). More information is also available on the Kansas Web site at www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov. Follow us on Twitter @NRCS_Kansas. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

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