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5e-08-Monitoring Soil Water Content for Irrigation Scheduling Carambola

5e-08-Monitoring Soil Water Content for Irrigation Scheduling Carambola

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116: 2003.37 . 116:37-41. 2003.
 S. D
 . , capacitance probes,neutron probe, tensiometers
 Multisensor capacitance probes, tensiometers, and aneutron probe were used for assessing soil water content forscheduling irrigation in an 8-year-old carambola (
 Averrhoa carambola 
 L.) orchard in Krome very gravelly loam soil insouth Florida. Four irrigation treatments were applied whensoil water content reached four different moisture set pointsexpressed in terms of percentage of field capacity as deter-mined with multisensor capacitance probes. The tensiometersand neutron probe gave a good estimation of absolute soil wa-ter content. The use of tensiometers was limited to a maximumsoil water tension of 20 cbar due to air entry into the water col-umn of the tensiometer and water column discharge. The useof a neutron probe by growers is not practical because its ra-dioactive source requires health and safety monitoring, and itis also labor intensive. Soil water content determined automat-ically and continuously with multisensor capacitance probesand computer software designed for irrigation scheduling canbe a practical method of irrigation scheduling in gravelly lime-stone soils. However, capacitance probes are relatively expen-sive, labor intensive to install and maintain and gave variablereadings of absolute water content among sensors in thesame treatment. However, the rate of soil water depletion wasconsistent among probes. Since irrigation scheduling withmultisensor capacitance probes is based on the rate of soilwater depletion rather than the absolute soil water content,this method may be an effective tool for scheduling irrigationin orchards with Krome very gravelly loam soil. To achievethis, the pre-set soil water depletion rate at which to irrigatemust be related to plant vigor, growth and yield.
 There are approximately 100 ha of carambolas in Florida(J. H. Crane, University of Florida, personal communication),of which 46 ha are in Miami-Dade County (Degner et al., 2002). A sweet-type, ‘Arkin’, is the leading commercial carambola cul-tivar in Florida (Campbell, 1989; Crane, 1989; Crane, 1994;Lamberts and Crane, 1990; Núñez-Elisea and Crane, 1998).Scheduling irrigation is vital for commercial carambolaproduction in south Florida where most of the annual rainfalloccurs during the summer months. In 2001 86% and in 2002,79% of total rainfall occurred during the summer between May and October (Fig. 1). During the winter months, irrigation isessential to compensate for the lack of rainfall. Irrigation is alsorequired to compensate for the lack of water between unevenly distributed rainfall events within a month. Excessive soil watercontent (Joyner and Schaffer, 1989) and drought (Ismail andNoor, 1996; Ismail et al., 1996; Salakpetch et al., 1990) haveadverse effects on carambola growth and yield.The soil of the Miami-Dade County, where carambola iscultivated, is composed primarily of calcium carbonate (Deg-ner et al., 1997) and classified as Krome very gravelly loam.This is a very shallow, mineral soil with a high pH of 7.4-8.4(Noble et al., 1996). This soil is extremely low in organic mat-ter and commercial farming largely depends on fertilizer ap-plications (Degner et al., 2002). The high demand forfertilizer coupled with excessive irrigation creates a potentialfor agrochemical leaching into the groundwater (Muñoz-Carpena et al., 2002; Zekri et al., 1999). In addition to reduc-ing potential agrochemical leaching, scheduling irrigation toapply only the amount of water required by the plant shouldincrease grower returns by reducing fertilizer and water in-puts, and improving plant growth and yields. A survey by Li et al. (2000) in 1998 showed that 73% of tropical fruit growers in Miami-Dade County schedule irriga-tion based on the frequency and quantity of rain. The per-centage has declined to 64.3% in 2002 according to a morerecent survey by Muñoz-Carpena et al. (2003). Monitoring of soil moisture for irrigation scheduling has increased to in-clude 48.8% of the respondents to the 2002 water-use survey (Muñoz-Carpena et al., 2003) compared to only 15% in 1998(Li et al., 2000). According to the 1998 survey, methods of soilmoisture determination included tensiometers, capacitanceprobes, digging and squeezing soil, and the feel and appear-ance of the soil (Li et al., 2000). The variability of durationand frequency of irrigation was high among tropical fruit growers, which highlights the need for a better understand-ing of irrigation requirements of these crops. With overhead,high-volume sprinklers, irrigation was applied from one tothree times per week for one to 12 h per application (Li et al.,2000). For microsprinklers, the frequency of operation was variable from 0.5 to 7.5 h per application and from one to sev-en applications per week. The amount of water applied pertree ranged from 110 to 2302 L with overhead sprinklers, 19to 341 L per tree with microsprinklers, and from 7.6 to 45 Lper tree for drip irrigation (Li et al., 2000). The variability inresponses to irrigation quantities and frequencies used by growers can be attributed to the lack of basic quantitative in-formation.Tensiometers, neutron probes, and capacitance probesdirectly or indirectly monitor soil water content and are oftenused for irrigation scheduling. Tensiometers measure soilsuction or matric water potential rather than soil water con-tent (Richards, 1942; Smajstrla and Harrison, 1998). A soil water retention curve must be established to determine the
 The authors thank Drs. Jonathan Crane, Yuncong Li and Rafael Muñoz-Carpena for critical review of this manuscript. The authors also thank AngelColls for assistance with installation of the capacitance probe system and Os- vany Rodriguez for orchard maintenance. This research was supported by the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, and approved for publication as Journal Series No. N-02362.
 Corresponding author.
 38 116: 2003.soil water content that corresponds to the water matric poten-tial in order to estimate soil water content with a tensiometer.The neutron probe is a portable compact unit that is easy to operate and volumetric soil water content can be obtainedinstantly at different depths of the soil profile. Neutronprobes are considered more accurate than other soil waterstatus monitoring devices for irrigation scheduling (Evett andSteiner, 1995; Mostert and Hoffman, 1996). The main com-ponent of a neutron probe is a fast neutron source encased ina protective shield and an electronic counting scaler whichare connected by an electric cable that is also used to lowerthe probe into an access tube to determine soil moisture con-tent throughout the soil profile (Chanasyk and Naeth, 1996).Neutrons with a high energy are emitted by a radioactivesource, such as americium 241/beryllium, into the soil andare slowed down by collisions with nuclei, primarily hydrogenatoms (Gardner and Kirkham, 1952). The density of the re-sultant cloud of slow neutrons is a function of the soil watercontent (Chanasyk and Naeth, 1996). The number of fast neutrons that are slowed is detected and measured as a ‘count rate’ per unit time (Gardner et al., 1991). The count rate isconverted to volumetric water content using a calibrationcurve. Neutron probes measure soil volumetric water content as the percentage of water per volume of soil.Capacitance probes measure the soil water content basedon the dielectric constant of the soil mixture (Paltineanu andStarr, 1997; Phene et al., 1990; Wu, 1998) a concept that wasfirst proposed for soil monitoring by time domain reflectom-etry (TDR) (Topp et al., 1980). The dielectric constant of thesoil is composed of the dielectric constants of water (80.4),soil particles (3-7) and air (1) (Paltineanu and Starr, 1997;Robinson and Dean, 1993; Starr and Paltineanu, 1998; Wu,1998). Since the dielectric constant of the soil particles andair are small and relatively constant compared to that of wa-ter, changes in the dielectric constant of the soil are a mea-sure of the change in soil water content. The volumetric watercontent can be expressed either as a percentage or a depth of  water (mm of water/10 cm of soil) (Núñez-Elisea et al., 2001;Paltineanu and Starr, 1997; Starr and Paltineanu, 1998).The objective of this study was to evaluate and comparetensiometers, multisensor capacitance probes, and a neutronprobe for accurately assessing soil water content for irrigationscheduling in a carambola orchard in Krome very gravelly loam soil.
 Materials and Methods
 The experiment was conducted in an orchard of 8-year-old ‘Arkin’ carambola trees grafted onto open-pollinated‘Golden Star’ rootstock at the Tropical Research and Educa-tion Center in Homestead, Fla. Trees were spaced at 4.5 m within rows and 6.1 m between rows.Low-tension tensiometers (0 to 40 cbar) (Model LT; Irro-meter Co., Inc., Riverside, Calif.) were calibrated prior to in-stallation using a calibration vacuum chamber (Smajstrla andPitts, 1997) to ensure that the water column in the tensiometer was air free, that there were no leaks, and to synchronize gaugereadings among tensiometers. One tensiometer was installed60 cm from the trunk of each of the three replicate trees ineach of the four treatments (defined in the following section).Tensiometers were installed at a depth of 10 cm below the soilsurface. Prior to installation, a hole was made in the soil, slight-ly larger in diameter than the tensiometer. A slurry, prepared with sieved Krome very gravelly loam soil mixed with water, wasapplied to the tensiometer hole to ensure that the ceramic cupof the tensiometer was in contact with the soil (Núñez-Elisea
Fig. 1. Total monthly rainfall and evapotranspiration (ET) during 2001 and 2002 in Homestead, Fla. Source: Florida Automated Weather Network, IFAS,University of Florida, Gainesville.
 116: 2003.39et al., 2001). Tensiometers were maintained regularly in thefield using a hand-pump and water was refilled whenever it drained from the tensiometer tube.For neutron probe measurements, one 85-cm long poly- vinyl chloride (PVC) access tube was installed at 60 cm fromthe trunk of each of the three replicate trees in each of thefour treatments. The neutron probe (Model 503DR, Camp-bell Pacific Nuclear, Inc., Martinez, Calif.) was placed in theaccess tubes and lowered to 10, 20, 30, and 50 cm depths be-low the soil surface. Neutron probe readings were taken fromcounts per 16 s at each depth. A multisensor capacitance probe system (EnviroSCAN,Sentek PTY Ltd., Kent Town, Australia) was used to automati-cally and continuously measure soil water content in eachtreatment. Prior to installation, data-loggers were configuredin the laboratory following the procedure described by Pal-tineanu and Starr (1997). Sensors were normalized to air and water counts by placing the probe in a tube surrounded by wa-ter. One probe was installed inside a 74 cm-long PVC accesstube at 60 cm from the trunk of each of the three replicatetrees in each of the four treatments. Four sensors were placedin each probe at 10, 20, 30, and 50 cm below the soil surface.The PVC tubes were installed with a motorized drill and a slur-ry was then added to the hole. The slurry consisted of 2:1:1 by  volume of calcareous rock, cement, and water to prevent airgaps from forming between the tubes and the surrounding soil(Núñez-Elisea et al., 2001). The sensors in each probe wereconnected to a data-logger powered by a 12-volt battery charged with a solar panel. Data were recorded every 30 min-utes and downloaded from the data-logger to a portable laptopcomputer and graphs of soil water depletion rates at each soildepth and location were created with the EnviroScan software.Trees were divided into four irrigation treatments basedon the field capacity determined with the multisensor capaci-tance probes. Treatments were based on the rate of soil waterdepletion between the field capacity and the permanent wilt-ing point of carambola trees (as measured with multisensorcapacitance probes in a preliminary experiment). The treat-ments were: 100-92%, 91-89%, 88-86%, or 85-83% soil waterdepletion below field capacity. Treatments were randomly dis-tributed in a completely randomized design with three repli-cations per treatment. When the soil water content reachedthe treatment range, trees in the treatment were irrigated us-ing microsprinklers (discharge rate = 89 Lhr
 ) for one hour, which brought the soil water content to above field capacity.Data from the three instruments were compared and ana-lyzed by linear and nonlinear regression and correlation tests.
 Results and Discussion
  A soil water retention curve was developed using the vanGenuchten (1980) model: where
 is the matric potential (suction or water tension)
 is the residual water contents, and
 is the saturated watercontent, and
 , , and are fitting parameters directly depen-dant on the shape of the
 ) curve. Parameters (i.e.
 , , and ) for the van Genuchten model for soil water reten-tion curve of Krome soil were obtained from the relationshipbetween matric potential (
 ) measured by tensiometers and volumetric water content (
 ) determined by neutron and ca-pacitance probes (Table 1). Matric potential measured withtensiometer fitted the van Genuchten model better when vol-umetric soil water content was measured with a neutronprobe (r
 = 0.42) than with multi-sensor capacitance probes(r
 = 0.35) (Figs. 2 and 3, respectively). The fairly weak rela-tionship between soil water tension and volumetric soil watercontent in Krome very gravelly loam soils can be attributed tothe inaccuracy of tensiometer readings above a suction of 20cbar and heterogeneity of very gravelly Krome soils (Núñez-Elisea et al., 2001). Tensiometers installed at 10 cm below thesoil surface were not effective at a tension of above 20 cbar be-cause air entered into the suction cup through the large poresin the gravel and produced inaccurate measurements or waterdischarged completely from the tensiometer. In a previousstudy, tensiometers installed at a 10 cm depth in Krome very gravelly loam soil in south Florida were successfully used toschedule irrigation of tomato (Li et al., 1998). In contrast, aprevious study in tropical fruit orchards with the same soilshowed that tensiometers were not effective in accurately esti-mating soil water potential at a depth of 30 cm below the soilsurface (Núñez-Elisea et al., 2001). The difference betweenthe usefulness of tensiometers in the vegetable field and fruit orchard may have been a result of significantly larger soil par-ticles in fruit orchards. In south Florida, vegetable fields arerock-plowed and repeatedly disked to break up the top layerof the soil (Colburn and Goldweber, 1961). Núñez-Elisea et al.(2001) reported that the lack of effectiveness of tensiometersin tropical fruit orchards at a depth of 30 cm below the soilsurface was attributed to the rockiness of Krome soil at that depth where 71 to 73% of the soil was gravel compared to 26%to 38% at in top 10 cm. Similar relationship between tensiom-eter readings and capacitance probes readings were also ob-served in the present study. In a laboratory measuredgravimetric water content and soil suction, Muñoz-Carpena et al. (2002) reported that at soil suction above 10 cbar, watercontent in Krome very gravelly loam soil is relatively insensi-tive to tension changes, thus large changes in soil water ten-sion reflect small changes in actual soil water content. In thepresent study, soil suction above 10 cbar resulted in variabletensiometer readings and discharge of the water column at above 20 to 30 cbar. Thus, tensiometers are not very useful formonitoring soil water content for irrigation scheduling in car-ambola orchards in Krome very gravelly loam soil. Volumetric soil water content determined with the neu-tron probe and capacitance probes were positively correlatedat all depths (Fig. 4). However, the correlation was not very high, probably due to differences in the principles of opera-tion of the devices, variability in soil microclimate around theaccess tubes, and the larger sphere of influence (volume of soil measured by the probe) measured by the neutron probethan for each capacitance sensor. Neutron probe measure-
 Table 1. Fitted parameters of van Genuchten model (1980) used to describesoil water retention curve of Krome soil where soil water content wasmeasured in a carambola orchard using neutron probe and multisensorcapacitance probes.ParametersNeutron probeCapacitance probes

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