hen you get into your truck, you probably instinctively check the gas gauge. A quick glance indicates whether you need to fuel up today or if it can wait. Your ride might even have a “distance to empty” indicator, giving even more information than your basic gas level.

There’s an advantage to knowing exactly how many more miles you can drive before your tank is empty, and it may help you to better manage your trips to the gas station.

Irrigation scheduling is similar — the more information you have, the better decisions you can make.

Many soil moisture equipment technology options have been around for decades and have been used successfully for irrigation scheduling. Newer technology allows us to gain more detailed information about the amount of soil water in the field, or even the condition of the plants, and that’s great. More information can lead to better decisions.

But when it comes to irrigation scheduling, the basic questions that have always needed to be answered are: Do we need to irrigate today, and if so, for how long?

Irrigation scheduling starts with a plan. Your irrigation water management plan should tell you how you’re going to make basic irrigation decisions. Here are some thoughts on what is most important.

Review the plant-soil-water basics. Make sure you understand basic plant-soil-water terms

like field capacity, wilting point and evapotranspiration. A clear understanding of how water moves through soil will help everything else make sense.

Measure your water with a high-quality, well-maintained flow meter.

Management schools teach that “you manage what you measure,” and you can’t manage water if you are not measuring it.

Fortunately, the market is full of accurate flow meters that tell you how much water has gone through your irrigation system. Of all the items necessary for good irrigation scheduling, don’t ignore this basic component.

Select a method of monitoring the water in your crop’s root zone.

Scientific irrigation scheduling methods fall into three categories, including

• tracking crop water use (the checkbook method). • monitoring the soil water using soil moisture monitoring devices. • monitoring the water status of the crop itself.

Select a method of monitoring the

water in your crop’s root zone. Photo credit: USDA NRCS California

Soil moisture and weather information in an orchard is relayed via radio. Photo credit: USDA NRCS Oregon 11

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