How to Optimize Soil Moisture for Best Crop Productivity?

As a farmer, you probably know how drought can impact your crops. But, did you know that even short periods of reduced soil moisture diminishes crop growth, and lowers your profitability?

The problem is that it is almost impossible to optimize underground soil moisture by measuring the above-the-ground weather with rain gauges, aerial images, or drones.

There is a smarter way, though. With underground wireless soil sensors, you can monitor root-zone soil moisture accurately, and see the data in real-time. The sensors are easy to install, no cables are needed, and they run 20 years underground without maintenance.

Read this blog to learn how to optimize soil moisture by using underground sensors!

(The findings are based on recent research on the effect of soil moisture on plant growth – you can download the full research report.)

How Does Soil Moisture Affect Plant Growth?

There’s a common misbelief that only severe drought limits crop growth. It’s true that total crop failure only occurs when plants wilt permanently, but recent research conducted with underground soil sensors clearly shows that yield losses start to develop much earlier – immediately when root-zone soil moisture falls below the optimal range.

Even a small water deficiency has several negative impacts on plants. Less water means less photosynthesis, which means lost growth. Simultaneously, less water uptake means less nutrient uptake.

optimal soil moisture diagram

Diagram from the research: the areas with the highest yields stayed within the optimal soil moisture window throughout the entire growing season – 100% of the time. In comparison, the lowest yield area had optimal soil moisture level, only 25% of the time.

Also, when root-zone soil moisture is not optimal, plants waste energy in obtaining water from the soil, which has an inadequate water supply. In other words, the energy, which the plant would typically use for growing, is partially lost because it is now spent on water uptake.

These are the reasons why water availability is the most critical growth factor, and even short periods of insufficient soil moisture reduces growth, productivity, and profitability.

Don’t Measure Weather When You Want to Understand Soil!

Farmers have always put in their best effort to ensure that their fields provide sufficient moisture for plants. However, with the traditional methods and tools, it has been nearly impossible to measure and manage soil moisture accurately. Above-ground observation appliances do not provide the needed underground soil insight. Why?

Firstly, the rain gauges that most farms use to get even a slight understanding of their plants’ growing conditions are not good for estimating underground soil moisture. Actual root-zone water availability is a combination of initial status, drainage, capillary water rise, plant transpiration, and evaporation – and they all vary a lot even within the same field, and that cannot be measured with a rain gauge.

Secondly, the intensity of a single rain event can easily vary 50% per every half a kilometer. Different parts of a field do not get an equal amount of water. This is yet another reason why soil moisture varies a lot within a field, which results in uneven growth.

Thirdly, single-spot soil sensors are not practical because every part of the field is different. Regional ET models and water deficiency estimates are no better in revealing the huge differences within your fields, not to mention answering the essential questions:

  • How severe is the actual moisture deficiency in the root-zone?
  • Which parts of the field are affected?
  • For how long have those regions suffered from restricted growth?

Clearly, observations on what happens in the air do not give you accurate information about the underground soil moisture. These inaccurate estimations lead to management-by-guesswork, and you end up reacting to damage that has already occurred.

So, why don’t you ask the soil itself?

How to use Wireless Underground Soil Sensors?

soil moisture sensor

With the new wireless soil monitoring technology, you don’t have to settle for guesswork based on weather observations, and inconsistent sampling!

You can bury underground wireless soil sensors in different parts of your field at different depths. The Soil Scout sensors measure underground soil moisture, temperature, and salinity, and upload the data every 20 minutes. You can see the information on your smartphone or laptop.

Based on this data, you can easily follow long-term trends, compare root-level soil moisture in different areas, and treat each area in an optimized way – and improve productivity across your fields.

The wireless soil sensors are easy to install; you simply bury them. They do not have cables, so you can dig them deep enough to stay safe from your machinery. You can go on with your farming as if there were no sensors! The battery can operate up to 20 years underground; no maintenance is needed.

With permanently buried soil sensors, installed in the root zone, below the plants, your soil moisture management becomes fast, easy, and accurate. When sensors are placed in carefully chosen locations, they allow you to observe and learn moisture trends from season to season, and improve productivity, year by year.

RELATED: How to use wireless soil moisture sensors in Smart Farming - Three-step process

Download the Soil Scout solution description.

In Conclusion

Soil moisture varies significantly in different parts of a field, which causes variable yields, and reduces overall efficiency and productivity.

You can only manage what you measure! With Soil Scout underground sensors, you can find the root cause of low yield areas, identify regions, which require improved water-holding, or better drainage, see when irrigation is needed, and observe correct dosage, and add fertilizer only where plants benefit from it.

In other words, you can finally manage soil moisture!

The findings are based on recent research on the effect of soil moisture on plant growth – you can download the full research report. It provides actionable guidelines for using Soil Scout to collaborate with your soil, to produce the best possible crop!

Learn how accurate underground soil data enables you to increase crop productivity! Contact our sales team!

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Johannes Tiusanen

Chief Science Officer, and the inventor, and founder of Soil Scout, a farmer, and Ph.D. in Agriculture Technologies.