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Spring Webinar Series Week 3 – Understanding Soil Moisture & Soil Moisture Management

We are in week 3 of our Spring Webinar Series! It was a fun webinar because the entire EarthScout sales and customer support team met in Princeton, MN for an in-person team building and company strategy meeting the day before this webinar was broadcast, so Anna and Sara were in the same place to combine forces for the webinar this week.

Anna was also visiting Minnesota from Nebraska this week to attend the Minnesota Irrigators Program (day 2). This program is a two-day event put on by the University of Minnesota Extension to help educate growers on sustainable irrigation practices to increase yields and save water. This was the inaugural Minnesota Irrigator Program and enrollment was limited to only 25 people, so if you missed out don’t worry, they plan to make this an annual event that will take place at various locations throughout the state for years to come. We are excited to have had the opportunity to sponsor this event that is sure to help farmers manage their water safely and efficiently. To learn more about this event click here.

I will quickly review the main points of this week’s webinar in this blog, but I encourage you to watch the recording at the end of this blog or by clicking here to hear all of the details of what Anna covers.

Soil Moisture and Soil Moisture Management

First, Anna covers some soil basics. She talks about the four main components of soil: mineral particles, organic matter, water, and air. Your soils water holding behavior will vary based on the amounts of these components present. The main types of soil are sandy, silt, loam, and clay. These soil types vary in their textures and water holding capacity, water filtration, and absorption. Increasing the organic matter of your soil will always increase the ability for your soils to hold onto water and make it available to the plant.

Soil texture and compaction determine how much pore space your soil holds, which will also determine how much water or air your soil will hold. However, soil texture alone does not account for compaction or organic matter effects on the actual field moisture performance.

After covering the basic principles of soil, Anna reviewed some key terms used when talking about soil moisture management.

  • Saturation– Saturation point is the soil water content when all pores are filled with water (max capacity)! This is not an ideal state for soil because if the pores are loaded with water, there is no room for air.
  • Field Capacity (FC)- Field capacity is the amount of water a soil can hold without draining.
  • Permanent Wilting Point (PWP)- Permanent wilting point describes the percent moisture at which plants can no longer extract water from the root zone. This degree of dryness is detrimental to the plant. You want to irrigate before you reach this point!
  • Water Holding Capacity– Water holding capacity is the total volume of water in the soil at field capacity.
  • Plant Available Water– Plant available water is the portion of the water holding capacity that can be used by the plant (the amount of water between field capacity and wilting point (see diagram below).

The diagram above shows the main differences between sandy soils, loam, and clay in relation to plant available water.

Silty loam hits the sweet spot for plant available water in most cases. It is an ideal balance of all the different particle sizes that maximizes water holding capacity and plant available water.

Sandier soils are great for plants that need a lot of oxygenation in their roots or when you are in a high rainfall geography. Sandy soils are great for hemp, cannabis, tomatoes, melons and the like. It can be challenging to grow in sand if you are not irrigated, especially during drought conditions.

Clay soils hold plenty of water, however they are not prone to sharing their water with plants. Not ideal for obvious reasons.

Soil Moisture Management via Cultural Practices

Whether or not you are irrigating, cultural practices on your farm will have a direct effect on compaction and the amount of organic matter present in your fields. Cultural practices include tillage, equipment compaction, fertilizer and manuring, crop residue management, compost additions, humic acid additions, and cover crops. These practices will all effect water holding capacity. Cultural practices also effect microbial communities living in your soil that contribute to organic matter, soil texture, and soil structure overall.

Measuring Soil Moisture

After discussing these general soil topics, Anna briefly describes how our TDR soil sensors measure soil moisture and some information regarding strategic placement of sensors in your fields and how you can vary the depths when installing our soil sensors.

Compaction, particle shape, and organic matter will all have impacts on water holding capacity and the best way to really dial in your irrigation is through directly measuring moisture in your field. EarthScout soil sensors provide a solution to being able to track soil moisture.

This webinar was mostly focused on the principals of soil moisture and soil moisture management. For a more in-depth discussion on how to use EarthScout to monitor your soil, please tune in on April 15th where we will be discussing irrigation case studies and how growers are using EarthScout to save significant amounts of money on irrigation costs.

Thank you again to everyone who attended this morning. We are really enjoying your participation and questions each week. This week wrapped up the first half of our 6-week series, and it’s hard to believe it is already April.

The remaining webinar schedule is as follows:

  • Week 4 (April 8th) – Mid-Season and End of Season Reports. What are these reports and how can they help you?
  • Week 5 (April 15th) – EarthScout Irrigation Case Studies. How our irrigation studies have helped growers see significant savings on irrigation costs.
  • Week 6 (April 22nd) – Crazy About Cover Crops. We will discuss soil health and the benefits of sustainable farming practices and case studies we have around this topic.

We hope to see you for the last 3 weeks of our series. If you would like to register, you can do so by clicking this link.

If you watch a replay and have any additional questions about our products and services, please reach out to us via phone at 877-443-7632 or through our website to speak with us about your needs.

If you missed the last 2 weeks of our webinar series, you could check out our YouTube Channel for access to all of our educational content.

  • Week 1 served as an Introduction to EarthScout, the history of the company, and the products we offer farmers and growers.
  • Week 2 was a deep dive into the available sensors EarthScout offers.

Thank you so much to everyone who attended today. We can’t wait to see everyone again next week as we discuss Anna’s special creations: Mid-Season and End-of-Season Reports! These reports are generated by our agronomy team and provide EarthScout users a more in-depth view of their data.