The Need:

Similar to most western states, Colorado allocates 70 to 80% of its consumptive water use for irrigation (United States Geological Survey). With freshwater becoming more valuable and scarce, it is imperative that we efficiently monitor and use this precious resource. Unfortunately, it is common to waste over 30% of irrigation water because of poor irrigation scheduling and inefficient application methods. Complicating the issue, extreme weather and shifting climates add new precedence for water management in areas that historically have not had to change practices for generations. The key to improving irrigation management is knowing how much water is in the soil root zone; only then can the timing and amount of irrigation be optimized.

Soil moisture sensor technology is essential to improve irrigation management, save water, and increase yields.

Today’s irrigators need accessible, easy-to-use tools.
IIC partnered with CSU to develop soil moisture sensors that:

  • deliver real-time soil data to their handheld devices so they know when to irrigate and how much water to apply
  • are low-cost, which allows sensors to be deployed in large numbers, providing a better representative sample of the field
  • is flexible and can fulfill many different plant and soil data collection needs

Current research:

Two systems will be installed and monitored during the 2022 and 2023 field seasons at CSU’s Agricultural Research, Development, and Education Center’s “ARDEC South” facility. Each unit will have five soil sensors equaling a total of ten installed at the field site, which is irrigated using a lateral move sprinkler. The lateral move will also offer the ability to fine-tune the application rates versus a system that uses furrow or less precise methods to water. Methods that have more control over how and when the water is applied can use the soil sensor data more effectively and can benefit from higher sensor density. That said, furrow systems can still gain value from soil sensors, especially fine-tuning the quantity of water applied. In summary, the overarching project will apply the sensor technology to multiple cropping systems and show how this technology can be leveraged to increase water use efficiency, yield, and soil health. The Irrigation Innovation Consortium will be testing the use of this system as part of developing a Testing Agriculture Performance Solutions program to demonstrate to program participants how the sensor data collected and presented in real time can assist in making irrigation decisions aligned with their production and water use goals.

For more information about soil moisture technology, IIC research and other resources check out these links:

Early prototypes of CSU/IIC soil moisture sensors

A T-post mounted system installed on a center pivot in Weld, CO.