TO COMPARE SOIL MOISTURE SENSORS USE VS ROUTING WATERING SCHEDULE ON SOD FARMS
Grantly Ricketts, UF/IFAS Extension, Osceola County, Kissimmee FL.
Objective: To reduce water use by 10% on sod farms.
Situation: Sod production increased in Osceola County each year. According to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, about 9808 acres of sod irrigated in 2016 and a projection of 11,353 acres will be irrigated in 2020 (https://fdacs-fsaid.com). Many are new producers while others increase acreage of production. All these sod producers irrigate and fertilize fields based on schedules without having any idea of the soil moisture level.
Methods: Two soil sensors were installed on a 40-acre field of zoysia grass. Irrigation applications were made based on readings from soil moisture sensors. Routine watering schedule carried out on neighbouring 40-acre plot. Rain gauges were installed to keep track of how much water applied to the field. Gallons of water applied routinely compared to gallons applied based on water sensor readings. Water application recorded every 10 days for 90 days. Two producers meeting conducted to educate and share results.
Results: An inch of water applied on 40-acre plot without sensors every 10 days. An inch of water per acre equals 27, 154 gallons/acre. Therefore, a 40-acre sod plot consume 1,086,172 gallons of water per irrigation event. The 40-acre plot without sensors were irrigated 5 times between April and June. Water consumption during those months was 5,430,860 gallons (5 x1,086,172 gallons). Plot with soil sensors irrigated 3 times at onset of turf stress. The 40-acre plot with sensors consumed 3 x 1086,172 gallons of water totalling 3,258,516 gallons. There is a 40 % difference (N=2,172,344) in gallons of water saved between plots with sensors and those without sensors.
Conclusion: The summer months were rainy, therefore there weren’t many opportunities for us to water based on sensors alerts.