How soil moisture sensors work in agriculture?
Soil moisture sensors can help guide farmers in irrigation management. Good irrigation management can allow crops to grow healthily, use fewer inputs, and increase profits. Soil moisture sensors help irrigators understand what is happening in the root zone of crops.
This page is a guide to selecting an appropriate soil moisture sensor for your farm.
To be used effectively, soil moisture sensors must be:
used in an irrigation shift that delivers water evenly
installed correctly and placed in an area which is representative of the crop being grown
used in combination with other irrigation management information (soil moisture sensors only measure a tiny area of an irrigation shift):
soil moisture monitoring
There are basically two groups of sensors:
water potential sensors, such as tensiometers and Pin type soil moisture sensor.
soil moisture sensors that give a percentage or relative content of soil moisture.
Water potential sensors
These sensors measure how hard it is to remove water from the soil, providing the best indication of available water for plants. Soil type and water content influence the suction pressure required to remove water from the soil, but a monitored sensor, which is recorded and graphed, will show the sharp fall that indicates water has become hard for a plant to access.
Questions when choosing a water potential sensor:
Do they accurately read in the desired range for the crop in which they are used?
Do they react quickly enough to be useful for the crop being monitored?
The two most common types of water potential sensors are tensiometers and granular matrix sensors, such as gypsum block and watermark sensors.
Tensiometers are the most responsive water potential sensor, and they require the most care and maintenance. There are two types of tensiometer tip: one is used in sands, and the other in clays and loams. Use the appropriate tip to see quick reactions to changes in water status.
Tensiometers work by measuring suction pressure at the tensiometer’s porous tip. Water is drawn out of or into the tip, depending on water availability. This creates a suction pressure representing the suction force required for a plant to obtain water from the soil. Measurements can be done by manually reading a vacuum gauge, or automatically, using a logging pressure transducer.
To maintain tensiometers, check for bubbles and refill the fluid used to create the vacuum within the tensiometer.
Pin type soil moisture sensor
Pin type soil moisture sensor adopts the international new generation FDR measurement method, which can reach an accuracy of less than 3%; the electromagnetic non-contact measurement method, the soil moisture sensor will not drift with time, which greatly enhances the stability of the product and extends the service life.
Depending on the porous material and the construction of the sensor, the water seems to move in and out of these sensors slower than with tensiometers. There tends to be a lag in the sensor wetting and drying in response to the soil. The lag tends to be greater as the soil dries, as opposed to rewetting, and therefore may lead to an underestimation of plant stress on the drying cycle.