Drip Irrigation scheduling is the process of deciding when to run the drip irrigation system, and for how long. It is a complex topic but of utmost importance because it influences whether the crop gets the right amount of water and nutrients, and whether valuable water is wasted to runoff or deep percolation. It is both an art and a science because the irrigator must balance known facts such as weather, chemistry, stage of plant growth and farm cultural operations. Irrigation decisions are made by combining this data with agronomic expertise.
Three methods of scheduling are widely employed: soil moisture monitoring, plant water stress monitoring, or the water balance method that predicts plant water use. All three techniques may be used separately or together, and vary in the types of data collected. On one end of the spectrum, the irrigator may make decisions by physically evaluating the moisture content in a sample of soil, or visually monitoring the appearance and color of the crop. On the other hand, sophisticated instruments may be used to collect data on soil moisture, plant water stress, weather conditions, and theoretical plant water use. Software may further manipulate this data in advanced applications to generate irrigation scheduling recommendations, while automation equipment may actually run the system.
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