Irrigation scheduling needs to consider both plant‐available water and soil aeration requirements

Journal Article
Global food production relying on irrigated agriculture accounts for >70% of the global freshwater withdrawal. A thorough understanding of soil–water characteristics (SWCs) and critical soil–water values in the soil and subsoil is important for effective management of irrigated water. A critical soil–water “window” for plants is generally taken as the plant-available water window without considering diffusion-dominated soil aeration as a co-requisite. This study examined SWC curves in vadose soil profiles (up to 1.5-m depth) in eight pasture soils. The soil moisture measurements were made over matric potentials ranging from −1 to −1500 kPa using tension table and pressure plate apparatus. The van Genuchten model was used to parameterize the measured SWC curve, while the Millington-Quirk model was used to derive soil–gas diffusivity from measured soil physical properties. We defined critical soil–water windows considering the threshold values for both plant-available water and soil–gas diffusivity to ensure water and aeration corequisites for plant growth. The results clearly distinguished depth-dependent regimes of gravitational, plant-available, and unavailable water in selected profiles and their responses to soil structural changes across the depth. In some of the observed soil profiles, only 30%–60% of the plant-available water window was able to be utilized by plants because the remainder existed under soil conditions where soil aeration was inadequate for plant growth, emphasizing the importance of considering both the plant's water and aeration requirements during irrigation scheduling. Further, the infiltration profiles in two selected soils under simulated irrigation highlighted the importance of a priori knowledge of the soil structure in deeper soil layers for scheduling irrigation.
© 2024 The Authors. Vadose Zone Journal published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Soil Science Society of America.
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