Proper irrigation management is key to optimize water use and increase crop yield. Water is a limiting factor in Florida citrus production during most of the year due to extremely sandy soils with low water-holding capacity and non-uniform distribution of rainfall. Soil moisture sensor systems may provide the most reliable data for effective citrus irrigation scheduling under these conditions.
Rad Yager, president and co-owner of Certified Ag Resources, discussed the benefits of soil moisture sensor systems during the 2021 virtual Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference.
According to Yager, benefits of using soil moisture probes to schedule irrigation include improved water-use efficiency and reduced water consumption. Deeper plant root growth while avoiding excess irrigation and nutrient leaching are additional advantages.
Sensors allow growers to confidently make irrigation decisions by providing real-time soil moisture data, including where the water is in the soil, how much water is in the soil and the rate at which the water content is changing. Sensors can also provide feedback on soil conditions before, during and after irrigation or rainfall events while monitoring for irrigation problems or failures.
For growers interested in adopting soil moisture technologies in their groves, Yager offered some tips for getting started.
“As a grower, you should really invest some time in learning about this data yourself. You know your farm the best, you know the health of your trees, and you know your irrigation system and its limitations,” Yager said. “So, if you understand this data, you can better utilize the technology to its full potential.”
Not every grower is going to be able to afford to start with a myriad of sensors to manage their irrigation. For this reason, Yager recommends starting out with just one sensor to learn from and get a feel for the technology.
Getting support from your county Extension agent is also helpful, especially in the first year or two. Those experienced with using the technology can help you better understand the data and adapt it to your grove.
For growers who already are using soil moisture sensors, Yager recommended checking the cellular network in which your system operates.
“In the Southeastern United States, we use a lot of Verizon 3G cellular networks. However, Verizon actually phased out of that network in December 2020,” Yager said. “If your equipment is a couple years old, there is a real risk that you could have a modem that is on the 3G network, which means it could stop reporting at some point this next year. Consult your dealer about getting an updated modem so you don’t start losing valuable data.”
This article was written by Ashley Robinson, multimedia journalist for AgNet Media in Gainesville, Florida.