A crop water stress index and time threshold for automatic irrigation scheduling of grain sorghum
Variations of the crop water stress index (CWSI) have been used to characterize plant water stress and schedule irrigations. Usually, this thermal-based stress index has been calculated from measurements taken once daily or over a short period of time, near solar noon or after and in cloud free conditions. A method of integrating the CWSI over a day was developed to avoid the noise that may occur if weather prevents a clear CWSI signal near solar noon. This CWSI and time threshold (CWSI-TT) was the accumulated time that the CWSI was greater than a threshold value (0.45); and it was compared with a time threshold (CWSI-TT) based on a well-watered crop. We investigated the effectiveness of the CWSI-TT to automatically control irrigation of short and long season grain sorghum hybrids (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench, NC+ 5C35 and Pioneer 84G62); and to examine crop response to deficit irrigation treatments (i.e. 80%, 55%, 30% and 0% of full replenishment of soil water depletion to 1.5-m depth). Results from automated irrigation scheduling were compared to those from manual irrigation based on weekly neutron probe readings. In 2009, results from the Automatic irrigation were mixed; biomass yields in the 55% and 0% treatments, dry grain yields in the 80% and 0% treatments, and WUE in the 80%, 55%, and 0% treatments were not significantly different from those in the corresponding Manual treatments. However, dry grain yields in the 55% and 30% treatments were significantly less than those in the Manual control plots. These differences were due mainly to soil water variability in the beginning of the growing season. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that IWUE for dry grain yield was not significantly different for 30% and 55% treatments, and was significantly greater for Automatic control at 80%. In 2010, there were no significant differences in biomass, dry grain yield, WUE, or IWUE for irrigation control methods when compared across the same amount treatments. Similar results between irrigation methods for at least the highest irrigation rate (80% of soil water depletion) in 2009 and among all irrigation treatment amounts in 2010 indicate that the CWSI-TT method can be an effective trigger for automatically scheduling either full or deficit irrigations for grain sorghum in a semi-arid region.
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