Water advance model and sensor system can reduce tail runoff in irrigated alfalfa fields
Surface irrigation, such as flood or furrow, is the predominant form of irrigation in California for agronomic crops. Compared to other irrigation methods, however, it is inefficient in terms of water use; large quantities of water, instead of being used for crop production, are lost to excess deep percolation and tail runoff. In surface-irrigated fields, irrigators commonly cut off the inflow of water when the water advance reaches a familiar or convenient location downfield, but this experience-based strategy has not been very successful in reducing the tail runoff water. Our study compared conventional cutoff practices to a retroactively applied model-based cutoff method in four commercially producing alfalfa fields in Northern California, and evaluated the model using a simple sensor system for practical application in typical alfalfa fields. These field tests illustrated that the model can be used to reduce tail runoff in typical surface-irrigated fields, and using it with a wireless sensor system saves time and labor as well as water.