A soil moisture monitoring demonstration site developed in Canterbury aims to help farmers with their irrigation management decisions.
Probes installed at the Foundation for Arable Research’s (FAR) Kowhai Farm near Lincoln will allow farmers to follow and compare the readings of different soil moisture probes.
The project aims to look at the various soil moisture monitoring services commercially available to arable growers.
Growers are invited to log in to any one of the nine providers’ portals to check out what moisture probe readings look like on the companies’ software platform.
“By familiarising yourself with each one, you will see how easy it is to understand the information that is used to make management decisions,” FAR technology manager Chris Smith said.
Moisture probes are a valuable tool for managing the timing and application rate of irrigation, particularly at critical growth stages of a crop’s development.
Multi-level probes add an additional benefit for monitoring the movement and penetration of moisture in the root zone after rain or irrigation.
Growers are encouraged to use moisture probes as part of their best practice for the irrigation audit process.
“This is so they have evidence to justify application rates or timings and prove that they are not creating potential leaching issues from over-applying, as they can illustrate they are keeping the moisture within the root zone,” Smith said.
Most probes also monitor soil temperature, which is useful at the shoulders of the season to make sure any irrigation events don’t cool down soils too much.
Both temperature and moisture are also critical measurements for fertiliser applications or planting timings.
Probes can be calibrated, but it is important to understand most show a trend in a farm’s soil, getting proportionally drier or wetter in the root zone or at different depths within the soil profile.
“It is arguably of greater value to have the field capacity and stress point for that specific probe set up correctly, taking into consideration the soil type, crop type and adjusted for growth stage (root zone depth).
“That is why moisture probes should be installed by the providers, adjusting the graphs once the probe has bedded in and had a decent weather event.
“This is also the reason it is best to install them in winter when setting these parameters is much easier because of the opportunities to reach field capacity.”
The season’s results will be reviewed in June each year.
Farmers can access the moisture probe providers’ portals and logins on the FAR website at https://www.far.org.nz/research/research-resources/moisture-probe-trial-at-kowhai.