Improving the Corn Crop Coefficient Method in the Mississippi Irrigation Scheduling Tool (MIST)

Author(s): Buka, H.; Linhoss, A.; Tagert, M.; Pote, J.; Wax, C.

This study examines the value of improving the crop coefficient method being used in the Mississippi Irrigation Scheduling Tool (MIST). Due to an overall increase in irrigated acreage, irregular distribution of rainfall during the summer growing season and continual decline of the Mississippi Alluvial River Valley Aquifer (MARVA), it is important to implement irrigation management practices that minimize water use without compromising crop production, yield, and quality through use of scientific models and soil monitoring devices. The objectives of this study were to 1) adjust and examine the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) crop coefficient method and the adjusted "SCS polynomial crop coefficient" method adapted and digitized from the former Soil Conservation Service (SCS, 1970) using a growing season of 120 and 150 days, 2) determine corn emergence and physiological maturity using 50 Growing Degree Days (GDD50) for use in adjusting the length of the growing season, 3) examine the importance of initiating the model at planting and emergence date, and 4) compare MIST modeled results to measured soil moisture data from Watermark soil moisture sensors for the 2014, 2016 and 2017 growing seasons. Currently, MIST uses a FAO crop coefficient with a growing season of 150 days, while the adjusted SCS method allows the growing season to be adjusted based on crop, variety, and maturity stages. Results showed that even though the adjusted SCS method called for irrigation earlier in the season, irrigation water was applied during the critical growth stages and did not trigger irrigation events after the crop reached physiological maturity. Results also showed that by using the adjusted SCS method and GDD50 to determine the growing season, fewer irrigation events and less total crop water use were indicated when irrigation was terminated at 2,700 and 2,900 GDD physiological maturity, depending on the variety used, as compared to the FAO crop coefficient. In addition, changing the timing of model initiation (planting vs emergence) was not important on the total crop water use, but it may have other benefits. Lastly, even though Watermark soil moisture sensors installed in the study field generally did not report similar results, especially around the mid-season, shallower sensor depth somewhat matched and showed similar trends with the MIST modeled results.

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