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Author: jordanpowers

Smart irrigation scheduling benefits producers

Smartphones demonstrating the Irrigator Pro app.
Producers can use smart apps like Irrigator Pro to adapt their irrigation schedules based on real-time weather data. (Photo by Irrigator Pro)

As climate variability increasingly affects producers across the Southeastern U.S., Wes Porter spends a lot of time thinking about water — specifically, crop irrigation — and how available tools can benefit farmers threefold.

“In some years we have ample rainfall to produce very good yields, while in other years, dryland yields are near zero,” said Porter, associate professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at the University of Georgia. “Even in seasons with ample rainfall, research has shown that the distribution of the rainfall is more critical than the total amount.”

The results of Porter’s research in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Cooperative Extension have shown that the implementation and incorporation of irrigation scheduling tools into production practice has the potential to not only increase water use efficiency — but also to increase crop yield and profitability.

“Poorly timed droughts can cause significant yield reductions, especially if a valid irrigation scheduling strategy is not employed,” Porter said. “The typical farmer practice is to follow a checkbook or calendar water schedule method where a set rate of irrigation is applied to the crop per week based on historical values and measured precipitation. This method is very conservative in all row crops produced in Georgia and typically applies the highest amount of irrigation.”

Porter added that while the UGA checkbook method is an excellent guide, a method based on historical averages is not going to hit the target every time, especially as weather patterns change.

While higher technology options are a bigger time and financial investment, the results are often worth it.

Using real-time data allows farmers to adapt

In addition to the checkbook method, Porter said that there are four or five different smart apps and online scheduling tools available to producers. While the checkbook method is the “backbone,” using these newer technologies allows for adaptation based on real-time weather data.

Producers looking for the next level of irrigation scheduling can explore soil moisture sensors, which allow for real-time monitoring in the field. The proximity to the crop allows producers to see what that specific crop needs at any given time.

From left to right is the CropX Sensor systems, the Valley Scheduling system, and the SWT probe.
A figure from a paper by Porter on cotton irrigation scheduling shows various soil moisture sensors. From left is the CropX sensor system, the Valley Scheduling system and soil water tension (SWT) probes.

The most advanced option available is a combination of soil moisture sensors and online scheduling tools. Porter noted that these technologies, if used correctly, can make or break a crop.

Installing a sensor in the field and using an online scheduling tool to record crop type and planting date allows a system to recommend irrigation amounts specific to the crop and specific planting data. 

“My studies have shown that the implementation of irrigation scheduling technologies such as soil moisture sensors or scheduling applications can increase yields in peanuts by approximately 20% while reducing irrigation applied by up to 60%,” Porter said, adding that these reductions were noted in extremely wet years, where the advanced irrigation scheduling methods only called for two or three irrigation events, compared to methods such as the checkbook, which irrigates weekly.

Environmental and financial benefits of smart irrigation

These findings are not isolated to peanut crops. In 2021, Porter’s cotton irrigation study did not require irrigation after mid-June. The peak water use in cotton is usually during July, however there was ample rainfall during the rest of the season. It can be very difficult for a producer to decide not to irrigate during this time of the season, but advanced methods help producers to make these decisions with confidence.

Reductions in irrigation can lead to major cost savings for farmers and benefits to the environment. The average season calls for 8 to 12 inches of irrigation, according to Porter. At an estimated $7 per acre-inch in electrical energy costs for pumping irrigation water, plus an average of $20 per acre-inch for diesel, the savings to producers — and the planet — are substantial.

Based on the electrical energy costs above, there is an estimated savings of up to around $250 per acre in peanuts. Assuming roughly 800,000 total acres of peanuts are planted in Georgia and 50% of those acres are irrigated, there is a potential impact of $100 million, according to Porter.

While these numbers are estimates based on research trials, Porter explained that there are opportunities for significant savings across the state in all crops if advanced irrigation scheduling is adopted and used correctly.

“If you don’t put science behind your irrigation scheduling, you lose on the bottom line,” Porter said.

Jordan Powers is the public relations coordinator and writer for UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

UGA research farms open gates to the public this summer

Tour attendees in a corn field listening to the guide.
Attendees at a past corn boil and farm tour at the J. Phil Campbell Sr. Research and Education Center learn about the newest research coming from CAES.

Athens-area residents familiar with driving past two University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) research farms will soon have the opportunity to go behind the scenes and learn more about CAES’ role in the future of farming.

The J. Phil Campbell Sr. Research and Education Center (JPCREC) and the Durham Horticulture Farm will open their gates for the public to learn more about active research projects at CAES on June 28 and July 7, respectively.  

J. Phil Campbell Sr. Research and Education Center

JPCREC will host their 8th annual corn boil on June 28, with a farm tour kicking off at 10 a.m. followed by lunch — hot dogs, baked beans and corn on the cob — served at 12:30 p.m. Visitors who wish to attend the farm tour should arrive a few minutes before 10 a.m. to the JPCREC main office complex at 1420 Experiment Station Road in Watkinsville, Georgia.

Tables and folding chairs will be provided for lunch, but guests are welcome to bring their own seating, if preferred. JPCREC requests that guests RSVP by the evening of June 24 to

The newest research and education center of the eight run by CAES, the now 1,700-acre facility was transferred to the college in 2013 to be used for agriculture and natural resources research, instruction and extension. Today, JPCREC is committed to developing environmentally sustainable and profitable agricultural systems in beef cattle, forages, cotton, weed and pest control, corn and soybeans, as well as a growing body of research in integrative precision agriculture.

Durham Horticulture Farm

On July 7, the Durham Horticulture Farm will host an open house where CAES researchers will discuss breeding efforts in watermelons and ornamentals, organic management of horticulture crops, control methods for tree fruit diseases, pollinators in Georgia and more.

Running from 6 to 8 p.m. at 1221 Hog Mountain Road in Watkinsville, the event will be held on the farm’s dirt roads and uneven walking areas. Farm staff suggest that guests dress accordingly. Bottled water will be provided and no RSVP is required for the event.

The Hort Farm, as it is commonly called by researchers and students, is a 90-acre facility that serves as a living laboratory for faculty, graduate students and undergraduates of UGA to conduct research in horticulture and other disciplines. The farm also houses a weather station that provides current and historical data about temperature, rainfall, soil conditions and more.

Both events are open to anyone interested in sustainable agriculture and the newest research coming from CAES.

Learn more about ongoing CAES research projects at

Jordan Powers is the public relations coordinator and writer for UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.