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A geospatial variable rate irrigation control scenario evaluation methodology based on mining root zone available water capacity

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Increasing concern for sustainable water use has the agriculture industry working toward higher efficiency in use of irrigation water. Recent advancements have improved the capabilities of center pivot irrigation systems to vary water application depths across the field, a technology known as variable rate irrigation (VRI). The goal of this study was to provide a geospatial method for potential VRI technology adopters to evaluate control scenarios and potential water savings using freely available datasets. Root zone available water capacity (R) was estimated spatially across two case study fields using the Natural Resources Conservation Service Gridded Soil Survey Geographic Database. The difference in application depth between conventional irrigation (CI) and both sector and zone control VRI was then estimated based on R. Prescription maps were developed to mine undepleted soil water from each irrigation management zone based on a soil water balance approach with a management-allowed depletion of 50%. For CI management, the areal 10th percentile (PCTL) of R for the field was used, while for VRI the 10th PCTL of R for each management zone was used. The highest reduction in irrigation depth was 18 mm where higher values of R were estimated; however, field average reductions ranged from 0 to 12 mm. The greatest improvements in pumpage reduction resulted from converting from sector control to zone control, while increasing the angular resolution only had a minor impact. Energy savings generally increased with higher VRI control resolution. Conclusions support previous notions that VRI may result in small pumping water reductions for some fields; however, improved water distribution may be achieved throughout the field.

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This research was supported by the Water, Energy and Agriculture Initiative, which was made possible with funding from the Nebraska Corn Board, the Nebraska Soybean Board, the Agricultural Research Division at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) and Nebraska Public Power District through the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research at UNL.

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Correspondence to J. D. Luck.

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Miller, K.A., Luck, J.D., Heeren, D.M. et al. A geospatial variable rate irrigation control scenario evaluation methodology based on mining root zone available water capacity. Precision Agric 19, 666–683 (2018).

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