By Ashley Robinson
Excessive nutrients in waterbodies, such as nitrate-nitrogen (N), have been one of the major issues in unconfined regions underneath the Upper Florida aquifer. This can be attributed to farmers applying excessive N fertilizer with the hope of obtaining higher yields. Therefore, the implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) such as proper irrigation and N management is required to avoid N leaching from soil profiles.
A field experiment was conducted in Live Oak, Florida to evaluate different irrigation strategies and N fertilizers in corn production. The goal was to improve strategies that could reduce N leaching from fields.
Scheduling can increase irrigation efficiency by decreasing runoff, deep percolation and soil evaporation losses. It also manages soil water content to reduce evapotranspiration during crop stages that require less water. According to Maria I. Zamora-Re, a Post-Doctoral Associate at the University of Florida, soil moisture sensors and soil water balance sheets are recommended methods of irrigation scheduling.
“The soil water balance sheet is a very easy spreadsheet that growers can put their inputs into, and the spreadsheet will allow them to know when irrigation is required in their fields,” says Zamora-Re.
In addition to reducing the amount of nutrients leaving the fields, irrigation scheduling tools can save growers input costs by applying less irrigation and fertilizer while potentially increasing crop yields.
“The data may be seen as overwhelming by some growers, and just one added to-do thing to their list. So we’re hoping to provide the tools and teach them that these technologies can be a very simple and cost-effective adaption. Another concern some growers share is the cost of soil moisture sensors. However, cost-share programs are now available through the grower’s water management district, which would provide them with a great opportunity to try this technology,” Zamora-Re says.