Why SoyWater?

The use of irrigation in Nebraska’s soybean production systems has steadily increased in recent years to the extent that irrigated soybean acreage now accounts for about 45% of State’s total soybean acreage. Technological advances in irrigation equipment can, over time, improve on-farm water application efficiencies (with respect to savings of both energy and water). However, producer adoption of these advances is slow because of the capital expenditures required for irrigation system upgrades. Greater producer adoption of more effective crop irrigation management can also ensure that water is scheduled and applied in a “when-needed, just-in-time fashion”, and would thus also optimize the efficiency of on-farm water and energy use.

Unfortunately, producer adoption of crop irrigation scheduling methods has been slow, mainly because of the large personal time commitment that is generally required to gather the data and compute the parameters and terms needed to maintain a daily soil water balance sheet, particularly when each field in the farm enterprise may require the creation of a separate sheet and a thus a separate daily updating. Moreover, the producer must also obtain daily estimates of evaporation of water from the soil and transpiration of water from the crop's leaves. These two parameters are typically combined into a single parameter referred to as daily crop evapo-transpiration (ET), which will be specific for field location, the planting or emergence dates of a given crop species, and varietal maturity. And, aside from these data, the producer must deal with keeping track of the dates and amounts of water "deposits" (rainfall and irrigation) and daily crop water "withdrawals" (evaporation and transpiration), and the drudgery of the doing calculations needed to know on any given day just how much water is left in the soil layers occupied by the crop roots! If you think this is an easy task, you may think otherwise after you read an extension publication on how to do irrigation scheduling by the "checkbook method".

When personal computers (PCs) arrived on the scene in the 1980s, many researchers and extension specialists thought that irrigation scheduling would be quickly adopted by producers, because of the expectation that PC software would be developed to handle the drudgery of the checkbook calculations. The problem, however, was different. A daily crop ET estimate had to be input into that PC software, and not many producers were routinely acquire those daily ET values from some source, and then sit down at a PC each day to input those ET estimates (for every field).

What was needed was a web site software program that the producer could interact with minimum input requirements. Unfortunately, until a few years ago, internet access speed for most producers with rural addresses was by slow-speed modems that made web site viewing painfully slow. However, a few years ago, Dr. Jim Specht, a UNL Soybean Geneticist/Genomicist and Crop/Plant Phyiologist/Agronomist came across a USDA report that indicated that many crop producers were acquiring high speed internet access in their rurally located homes for both e-mail and website visitation use. After reading that, Dr. Specht, in a brainstorming session in late August 2008 with his UNL colleague Dr. Ken Cassman (a crop physiologist and soil scientist), recognized that now might be an opportune time to create a website that would make it an "order of magnitude" easier for soybean producers to use irrigation scheduling. The idea was that website SHOULD DO ALMOST ALL OF THE WORK needed for data retrieval and calculations, and then provide the producers with a single table of informative facts that he/she could either read on the screen, or better yet print the table out. In either case, the printable table would be decision-aid irrigation scheduling information that the producer could examined over an early morning cup of coffee! To get this table, the producer would need only to input into the web site program a few items, namely, the location of the field, the soil texture of that field, the planting or seedling emergence date, and the varietal maturity. Thereafter, the producer could simply log-in as needed to provide the dates and amounts of rainfall and irrigation events, or as desired to have the website provide him with a past, current, and projected estimation by day of season of the cumulative amounts of soil water depletion by the crop (adjusted for rainfall and irrigation). THUS, from such brainstorming between two UNL faculty members, the idea of the SoyWater web site was born! BUT, it was brainpower and dedication of two hard-working UNL post-doctoral research associates, Dr. Jessica Torrion and Dr. Tri Setiyono, who enabled the idea of SoyWater to be translated into reality. In addition, Dr. Suat Irmak, a UNL expert in all things associated with Crop ET, contributed some very critical ideas to us all that greatly helped in the development of SoyWater. Finally, SoyWater would not exist without the collaboration of Dr. Martha Shulski (director) of the High Plains Regional Climate Center and the HPRCC programmers Bill Sorensen and Jun Li. You can find photographs of all of the above individuals by going to the SoyWater menu bar and clicking on the button entitled "The Team".

A Final Note:

The SoyWater website is "scheduled" (pun intended) to be released to the public in early May 2010. If you are a soybean producer, crop consultant, extension specialist, or use irrigation in your agronomic research, we encourage you to give SoyWater a tryout on one of your soybean fields in 2010. Note that you don't have to be an irrigator, because SoyWater will project the development of your soybean crop (irrigated or rainfed) by showing the dates on which your crop's vegetative (V) and reproductive (R) stages will likely occur (and by clicking on any V or R stage, you will get a drawing and/or picture of that stage). So, if you have a herbicide, or a fungicide, that must be applied at a very specific V or R stage for maximum effectiveness, you can use SoyWater to find out days ahead of time what calendar date SoyWater is projecting for the occurrence of that V or R stage!

If, after trying SoyWater for the first time, you want to e-mail us a question and/or comment, please click here.

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