MSU irrigation scheduling tool updated to include Enviro-weather data

MSU Extension is updating their irrigation scheduling tool to automatically download weather data from MSU Enviro-weather stations for the 2015 growing season.

Michigan State University Extension is updating the Microsoft Excel-based irrigation scheduling tool for 2015. We anticipate the updated program will be available for download at the MSU Extension Irrigation website sometime in early April 2015. Perhaps the most important change is a modification that will allow the program to download evapotranspiration (ET), growing degree day values and predicted ET values from the closest MSU Enviro-weather station. This feature was added to reduce the work load for producers using the program by automatically entering these important pieces of information into the scheduler. The only information that needs to be entered by the producer is the rainfall at the field and the amounts of irrigation water they applied. The software development team is currently evaluating ways to make entering this information easier for users with multiple irrigation systems to manage.

MSU Enviro-weather is a series of 80 fully automated weather stations that collect information such as rainfall, humidity, air and soil temperatures and leaf wetness. This information is collected each day and is available at the MSU Enviro-weather website. The data is then utilized in mathematical models that predict crop growth and development and identify important windows for insect and plant disease scouting and management, in addition to crop water usage. This information is then available for use by producers, crop consultants and agri-business professionals to help make more informed crop and pest management decisions in field crop, fruit and vegetable production.

Other enhancements to the MSU irrigation scheduling tool include changing the growth curves for corn and soybeans from a calendar-based system to a growth stage-based model. This update should more accurately reflect crop development. For example, when corn is grown, the program utilizes growing degree days to better estimate crop development and subsequent crop water usage. The new program also allows the user to select the crop growth stage observed in the field to over-ride those predicted by the scheduler if weather conditions are causing the crop to develop grow faster or slower than normal. Another enhancement in the program is a report that contains the information needed for Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s (MDARD) water use reporting by April 1 each year.

MSU/Purdue University irrigation educator Lyndon Kelley says that using an irrigation scheduler is an important way for producers to keep track of where soil moisture levels are in their fields. When irrigating for top yields, it is important to have adequate soil moisture available to keep the developing crop from suffering from drought stress at critical growth stages.

At first glance, you might think using a scheduler program would reduce irrigation applications, but in Kelley’s experience, a scheduler coupled with an occasional “ground truthing” evaluation of the soil’s wetness will more often than not slightly increase water use. The value of using a scheduling tool comes from growers being able to avoid brief but costly periods of stress that can significantly reduce yields. Kelley also suggests that use of these programs can also help to show when soil moisture levels are high enough that a 1-inch thunderstorm rain will have potential leach nitrogen through the soil profile.

Funding for updating the MSU irrigation scheduling tool has been provided by the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee. The goal of this investment is to help producers growing soybeans under irrigation to produce higher yields. 

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