“Another option is to actively track soil moisture status based on sensors placed in the field. This information can be relayed to you or gathered from the field,” says Perry.

Soils in the Southeast Coastal Plain region exhibit a lot of variability, he notes, and growers don’t have a single soil type in their fields. For this reason, efficient irrigation in these soils is best achieved using some sort of site-specific management and maybe even automation using sensors, he says.

“There are several ways to get soil moisture data from these probes. The easiest way is to employ some sort of telemetry. Farmers are very busy, and they don’t want to have to go out into each of their fields and read a soil moisture sensor if they don’t have to. There are a number of ways to get this data,” says Perry.

The sensors themselves fall into two primary categories, the Watermark soil moisture sensors and some of the newer capacitance-type soil moisture sensors, he says. “These new types are much more expensive, such as $30 for a single Watermark probe versus $1,500 for some of these elaborate probes that have sensors at multiple depths. You pay a price for convenience and for getting those multiple depths.”

A new product on the market is the SmartCrop sensor manufactured by Smartfield out of Lubbock, Texas, says Perry. With SmartCrop, the plant is the sensor. By combining plant biology and agronomic science, SmartCrop can indicate high stress levels, plant disease, crop health status, and plant water needs.

The SmartCrop technology is based on the USDA patent known as BIOTIC (Biologically Identified Optimal Temperature Interactive Console). The technology uses a temperature sensor to monitor the leaf canopy temperature of your crop to determine water stress.

This sensor, placed in the grower’s field, takes this reading and relays the information to the Smartfield base station.

“It predicts that if your crop spends so many minutes beyond the maximum temperature, it’s experiencing moisture stress. If you irrigate the crop, the temperature of the canopy is going to come down. They’ve developed algorithms for a number of crops. They were developed in the Lubbock area, a semi-arid climate, so we’re looking at it to see if it would work under our conditions.”