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From: Michele Rinaldi, Zhenli He, Decision Support Systems to

Manage Irrigation in Agriculture. In Donald L. Sparks, editor:
Advances in Agronomy, Vol. 123,
Burlington: Academic Press, 2014, pp. 229-279.
ISBN: 978-0-12-420225-2
© Copyright 2014 Elsevier Inc.
Academic Press
Author's personal copy


Decision Support Systems to

Manage Irrigation in Agriculture
Michele Rinaldi1,2,*, Zhenli He1
Indian River Research and Education Center, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of
Florida, Fort Pierce, Florida, USA
Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura, Research Unit for Cropping Systems in Dry
Environments, via C. Ulpiani 5, 70125 Bari, Italy

1. Introduction 230
2. Decision Support Systems 231
2.1 Definition 231
2.2 General DSS approach 232
3. DSS Application in Agriculture 233
4. Use of DSS for Managing Irrigation 233
4.1 Structure 233
4.2 Crop ET estimation 236
4.3 Irrigation scheduling 237
4.4 Remote-sensing information 237
5. Examples of DSS Application in Agriculture 238
5.1 Land use 238
5.2 Crop yield and quality 240
5.3 Pollution management 241
5.4 Economic evaluation 243
6. Examples of DSS Application to Manage Irrigation 243
6.1 Examples of DSS applied at a field/farm scale 244
6.2 Examples of DSS applied at a district scale 256
6.3 Examples of DSS for irrigation scheme and design 266
7. Discussions 270
7.1 Diffusion of DSS 270
7.2 Limitation to large DSS use 271
8. Conclusions 272
Acknowledgments 273
References 274

*Present address: Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura, Cereal Research Centre,
S.S. 673 km 25,200, 71122 Foggia, Italy

Advances in Agronomy, Volume 123 # 2014 Elsevier Inc. 229

ISSN 0065-2113 All rights reserved.
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230 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

A decision support system (DSS) is an interactive software-based system used to help
decision-makers compile useful information from a combination of raw data, docu-
ments, and personal knowledge; to identify and solve problems; and to make an opti-
mized decision. The DSS architecture consists of the database (or knowledge base), the
model (i.e., the decision context and user criteria), and the user interface. The main advan-
tages of using a DSS include examination of multiple alternatives, better understanding
of the processes, identification of unpredicted situations, enhanced communication,
cost effectiveness, and better use of data and resources. The application DSS in agricul-
ture and environment has been rapidly increased in the past decade, which allows rapid
assessment of agricultural production systems around the world and decision-making
at both farm and district levels, though constraints exist for successful adoption of this
technology in agriculture. One of the important applications of DSS in agriculture is water
management at both field and district levels. Agriculture is facing more severe and grow-
ing competition with other sectors for freshwater. The water resources are becoming
increasingly insufficient to meet the demand in developing countries and their
quality is declining due to pollution and inadequate management. Irrigation is an effec-
tive means to enhance crop productions, but water needs to be supplied accurately, tak-
ing into account its availability, crop requirement and land size, irrigation systems, and
crop productivity and feasibility. This chapter attempts to present the state-of-art prin-
ciples, design, and application of DSS in agriculture, particularly irrigation practices,
and to identify emerging approaches and future direction of research in this field.

DSSs decision support systems
ET evapotranspiration
ET0 reference evapotranspiration
ETc actual crop evapotranspiration
GIS geographic information system
ICT information and communication technology
Kc crop coefficient
MCA multicriteria analysis
MMS multimedia messaging service
Pc personal computer
RS remote sensing
SMS short messaging service

The management of water resources is a complex environmental prob-
lem, involving different agents with different interests acting at various scales
and interacting with land use management. To overcome these conflicts, an
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Decision Support Systems to Manage Irrigation 231

integrated assessment has been proposed as a solution, an interdisciplinary and

participatory process combining, interpreting, and communicating knowl-
edge from diverse scientific disciplines that enable better understanding of
complex phenomena. The approaches range from model-based methods that
quantitatively describe causal relationships and interactions among system
components (Jakeman and Letcher, 2003; Parker et al., 2002) to participatory
ways that favor decision-maker and stakeholder participation in the assessment
and decision-making process (Leenhardt et al., 2012; Reed, 2008).
At a global level, the strategy adopted is known as integrated water
resources management, “a process which promotes the coordinated devel-
opment and management of water, land and related resources in order to
maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner
without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems” (Bazzani,
2005). New technologies and knowledge can help in this complex
decision-making. The fundamental idea is that the DSS should serve as a
farm management tool, supporting farm managers in making decisions on
irrigation, that is, whether to irrigate and, if so, which field with how much
water. For these decisions, the farm managers must evaluate the irrigation
needs in each field, by combining information on soil type, crop develop-
ment stage, and water deficit. The farm manager must also compare fields
with respect to irrigation needs. Finally, the farm manager must foresee
the likely development in irrigation needs up to 1 week ahead, which
typically is the time required to irrigate all fields, because he/she needs to
start irrigation in good time to avoid large water deficits in the last fields
being irrigated. This needs of a link to a forecast weather service.
Different DSSs have been developed and applied, more or less widely in
the most intensive agricultural areas in the world. In the following sections of
this chapter, the main DSSs recently developed or updated (in the last
10 years) are reported and briefly described.
The aims of this chapter are to describe briefly the main decision support
systems (DSSs) applied to irrigation available today in the scientific commu-
nity, to discuss the reported experiences of their use, and to evaluate the lim-
itation to their large diffusion.


2.1. Definition
DSS is a computerized system for assisting any decision-making process, which
integrates databases, modeling tools, and multicriteria analysis (MCA)
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232 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

methodologies that are used to analyze and rank a set of alternatives. Supporting
a decision means helping decision-makers to generate alternatives, rank them,
and make choices (Finlay, 1994), which is particularly useful for design.
Supporting the selection-making process involves the estimation of the attri-
butes relative to selected criteria for each alternative, evaluating them, compar-
ing the alternatives, and identifying an “ideal” compromise between several
and often adversative criteria.
A DSS enables decision-makers to take into consideration complex and
interacting factors. The main advantages of using a DSS are as follows: an
increased number of alternatives can be examined, better understanding
of the business/processes, identification of unexpected situations, improved
communication, cost savings, better decisions, time savings, and better use of
data and resources. DSSs have started recently being used in agriculture, in
particular, for irrigation.

2.2. General DSS approach

In general, the DSSs are evolution, improvement, and add-on of other
modules of previous simulation models. The complexity of DSS needs
to exploit the existing tools, integrating new knowledge and technolo-
gies (i.e., remote sensing (RS), Web, short message service, and MCA).
The typical approaches that drive the DSS can be summarized as
1. Model simulation: Some parameters values and decision variables need
to be assumed and the results of simulated behaviors of the model are
2. Single-objective optimization: A criterion and an objective function are
defined and the solutions that are optimal with respect to this function
are analyzed.
3. Multiobjective optimization: In environmental science, a good model-
based DSS should rely not on single but multiobjective optimization.
4. Goal programming: In interactive DSS where the decision-maker can
change the preferences during the decision process, two classes of
approach are useful in goal programming.
5. Reference point methodology: The idea of defining a goal in objective
space and approximating to it is very attractive. The reference point
approaches assume that the computerized DSS try to improve a given
reference point, if this point is attainable.
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Decision Support Systems to Manage Irrigation 233


The applications of DSS in agriculture have been increasing in the last
decades, especially for land use planning, pest control, and fertilization. In
this chapter, the major focus is on irrigation.


4.1. Structure
4.1.1 The input data Soil
The information about soil is usually chemical, physical, and hydrologic
characteristics. The details of information that takes into account spatial var-
iability and the depth of layers depend on the water balance calculation
methods (simple cascading approach or Richard’s equation) and DSS scale
(field, farm, or district). In general, soil information can be inputted manu-
ally by the user for field/farm applications, while it is provided by regional/
national database as informative layers for a geographic information system
(GIS) embedded into the DSS in large-scale applications. Crops
Majority of agricultural crops receive the interest of scientists to use DSS in
order to simulate growth, water requirements, and final yield. The crops
economically important and with higher economic value have been better
studied in simulation approach. A lot of models are available not only for
cereals and legumes in different environments but also for horticulture
and forest sectors. Many models are not species-specific or generic, meaning
that some parameters can be modified to fit the model to any kind of crops. Weather
Daily information about the main climatic variables that influence crop
growth and water balance is necessary for DSS operation. For large-scale
applications, weather information is provided by national systems. At a field
scale, it can be provided manually or by means of a link to a local meteoro-
logic station that feeds the DSS. An important aspect is the link to a
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234 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

forecasting service that can broadcast weather for the next 3–10 days in order
to better schedule irrigation.

4.1.2 The geographic information system

The need of GIS linked to DSS has been highlighted mainly in the input and
output phases of district-regional simulation. In the input phase, the GIS
allows the selection of the simulation units (soil–crop–climate) characterized
by homogenous conditions and the reading of the input values of different
parameters. Each simulation units is characterized by geographic coordinates
(shape, size, and position) and by crop type, soil chemical and physical char-
acteristics, and codes to link to climatic databases or on-time weather
In the output phase, the GIS permits a rapid and valuable exhibition of
the spatial simulation results, with clear positive effect on the results’ under-
standing. It is further possible to carry out statistical analysis of selected vari-
ables to select specific areas and recover informative layers.

4.1.3 The simulation model

Each DSS has specific crop growth simulation models in order to estimate
daily biomass accumulation and crop evapotranspiration (ET), fundamental
for the irrigation requirements (see Section 4.2). Every crop growth model
has a growth engine that operates the production of structural biomass
from the use of captured solar radiation and carbon dioxide. The growth
engine of all crop models has the solar energy as primary driving force. How-
ever, the same solar radiation is also the primary driving force for water
Almost all growth engines of the different crop models can be grouped
into three main categories, depending on the hierarchy of processes and
scales involved: (i) carbon-, (ii) solar-, and (iii) water-driven growth engines.
In the carbon-driven growth engine, growth is based on the carbon
assimilation by the leaves’ photosynthetic process. The leaf area of the crop
canopy is split in layers along the canopy height, through which diurnal light
decays while transmitted, reflected, intercepted, and absorbed. In each layer,
light is divided in direct and diffuse components and leaves are described in
terms of area and angle. By knowing the photosynthetic response function to
photosynthetic active radiation, the carbon assimilation of different layers
and at different times of the day is then worked out. Proper integration over
canopy height and daytime yields the daily canopy carbon gain. Such a
simulation of daily canopy carbon gain is operated as gross photosynthesis.
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Decision Support Systems to Manage Irrigation 235

To the carbon-driven group belong all growth engines of the Wageningen

crop models (Bouman et al., 1996; van Ittersum et al., 2003).
In the solar-driven growth engines, it derives the biomass directly from
the intercepted solar radiation through a single synthetic coefficient. In this
case, there are no lower hierarchical processes expressing the intermediary
steps necessary to achieve the biomass accumulation, but the underlining
processes they are synthetically incorporated into the radiation use efficiency
(Monteith, 1977; Sinclair and Muchow, 1999). To the solar-driven group
belong the models of CERES, EPIC, STICS, and CropSyst, although
CropSyst has also a second growth engine.
The approach of water-driven growth engine has been initially
highlighted by de Wit (1958), who showed the close relationships between
cumulative seasonal transpiration of crops, grown with adequate soil water
supply, and biomass production. Furthermore, he was able to normalize for
the different climatic conditions, from year to year and from location to
location, by dividing crop transpiration for the evaporative demand of the
atmosphere. Such a slope represents the biomass water productivity
(WP). After normalization for climate, crops were grouped in classes having
the same WP. All the previous observations and considerations make the
water-driven growth engine highly robust for application in water-limited
environments. The major disadvantage of this approach is in the difficulty to
derive actual transpiration. To the water-driven group belongs one of the
two growth engines of CropSyst model and AquaCrop (Steduto
et al., 2007).

4.1.4 The user interface

This is an important issue, because a friendly interface can greatly influence
the use of DSS. Graphic aspect, colors, and buttons are important to attract
and appeal the users to a system, but mainly the easy understanding of the
functions, a good help systems, and a definition of the fields and codes
are fundamental because the users approach the DSS more frequently and
with satisfaction.

4.1.5 The output data

The DSS usually can provide a plenty of information: from a simple alert of
when–how much and where to irrigate to information about soil and plant
water status, crop growth, soil water deficit, daily and seasonal water use and
irrigation requirement, climatic report, and so on.
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236 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

All these information can be stored and analyzed according to the users’
need or mapped in the case of link with a GIS.
The new technologies allow information to be sent to the users via short
messaging service (SMS), multimedia messaging service (MMS), or dis-
playing maps via smartphone and tablets (Kim and Evans, 2009).

4.2. Crop ET estimation

The consumptive use of irrigation water, defined as the water that is no lon-
ger available for use because it evaporated, transpired, or incorporated into
crops, is transferred to the atmosphere as ET, and therefore, the spatial and
temporal quantification of ET is essential in agricultural water management,
at both field and district scales.
Crop ET is usually calculated by means of the product, ETc ¼ ET0 * Kc,
where ET0 is the reference evapotranspiration, as a function of climatic con-
ditions, which can be estimated using different methods depending on the
availability of climatic data. The most commonly used and internationally
accepted ET0 estimation methods are based on combination theory, solar
radiation, temperature, and pan evaporation (FAO-56 Penman–Monteith,
FAO-24 Penman, Kimberly–Penman, FAO-24 Radiation, Priestley–
Taylor, Turc, Hargreaves, FAO-24 Blaney–Criddle, and FAO-24 Pan
Evaporation). DSS can usually select any one of the previously mentioned
methods based on the availability of data. Crop coefficients (Kc) can be esti-
mated by weighing lysimeters in research centers or estimated by RS images
and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) calculation for the close
relationship with crop green leaf area index (LAI).
Field techniques such as soil water balance residual methods, Bowen
ratio, and eddy covariance systems provide direct ETc measurements
(Dugas et al., 1991), but they are obtained at the plot scale or are limited
to the local environment in which the instruments are installed. Methods
used to obtain estimates of ETc at large scales are often based on a
physical–mathematical procedure, that is, simulation models or remote-
sensing algorithms (Bastiaanssen et al., 2005; Kite and Droogers, 2000).
Remote-sensing techniques for estimating ET have been recently devel-
oped and are based on using satellite-based energy balance. METRIC
(Mapping EvapoTranspiration with high Resolution and Internalized Cal-
ibration) is an ET estimation model (Allen et al., 2007a) and based on the
SEBAL (surface energy balance algorithms for land) model of Bastiaanssen
et al. (1998). The SEBAL model has been applied and tested widely in
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Decision Support Systems to Manage Irrigation 237

the world (Bastiaanssen et al., 2005), while METRIC has been applied in the
western United States (Allen et al., 2007b). Satellites routinely measure sur-
face reflectance and/or surface temperature, but none measure near-surface
vapor content. Therefore, in METRIC, ET is determined from Landsat sat-
ellite imagery by applying an energy balance at the surface, where the energy
consumed by the ET process is calculated as a residual of the surface energy
balance equation. The energy balance is calibrated for each image using an
ET0 calculation determined from weather data. Once crop ET is deter-
mined, it is possible to calculate the ratio between ETc and ET0, named
actual crop coefficient (Kc act; Allen et al., 2005).

4.3. Irrigation scheduling

A large number of criteria in irrigation scheduling can be found
implemented in DSS. The time and amount of irrigation water can be
decided by the users as functions of the following:
1. Soil moisture: fixing a soil water content threshold or a percentage of crop
available water in a fixed soil depth
2. ET threshold: fixing an ET threshold and irrigating when the cumulative
daily ETc minus effective rainfall reaches this threshold
3. Time interval: a fixed time interval (e.g., in scheme where irrigation water
is available only every n days)
4. Phenology: supplemental irrigation at critical crop stages
Some DSS can have different criteria and the users can choose both the
criteria and the threshold levels.

4.4. Remote-sensing information

ETc estimations based on Kc values derived from satellite images have been
shown to be useful in field and district water management (Tasumi and
Allen, 2007). However, images are generally produced with high spatial res-
olution. Combining hydrologic models and RS can overcome many of the
shortcomings associated with low spatial coverage of field-scale models and
with the low temporal resolution of high spatial resolution remotely sensed
images (Droogers and Bastiaanssen, 2002). This combination facilitates
detailed spatial and temporal analyses for assessing the performance of irri-
gation schemes (Kite, 2000; Kite and Droogers, 2000).
The opportunities to merge satellite-based ET data with soil water and ET
estimates obtained with simulation models or with water use information
collected in the field are abundant (Acutis et al., 2010; Dente et al., 2008).
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238 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

Additionally, ET estimates may be used together with on-farm measure-

ments of applied irrigation water to provide reliable estimates of irrigation
efficiency, thus identifying those plots within the scheme that requires
improvements to their irrigation management (Santos et al., 2008).


5.1. Land use
Integrated assessment and modeling has been proposed as a means of
enhancing the management of complex systems and improving integrated
assessment (Harris, 2002; Parker et al., 2002; Parson, 1995). It is based on
system analysis as a way to consider, in a balanced integration, the biophys-
ical, economic, social, and institutional aspects of a system under study.
In Germany, a spatially explicit decision support method on the basis of
risk evaluations for landscape functions, named MULBO (multicriteria
landscape assessment and optimisation) was developed (Meyer and
Grabaum, 2008). Its principal purpose was the establishment of optimal land
use patterns as scenarios, which are balanced compromises between con-
flicting goals for the reduction of assessed risks.
MULBO wants to spatially resolve conflict in a landscape between eco-
logical, economic, and social functions. It consists of the following seven
1. Goal explanation: The development of goals is based on landscape anal-
ysis, discussions with stakeholders, and regional and supraregional
2. Data input and choice of assessment algorithms and methods: The choice of the
evaluation procedures results from the landscape analysis. The assessment
procedures again determine the data requirement. The data are recorded
in a GIS.
3. First assessment: This provides the estimation of the degree of the fulfill-
ment of the selected functions and the allocation to assessment classes.
Validated assessment tools are used.
4. Landscape optimization: The landscape optimization calculates optimal
land use compromises related to land use goals and between the individ-
ual goals for the evaluated functions as scenarios related to a selected area.
But defaults are necessary for certain land uses. The opportunity of inter-
active weighting is given.
5. Development of a landscape planning draft for the inclusion of cultural landscape
information and structures: Since some information (e.g., cultural landscape
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Decision Support Systems to Manage Irrigation 239

information and views) is often not considered technically, these must be

incorporated into a landscape plan, if they are relevant for the objective.
6. Second assessment: This involves the measurement of changes between the
current and the potential (more optimized) land use. This assessment
takes place using the methods used in the first assessment.
7. Recommendations for action: For the scenarios considered, the degree of the
functional fulfillment is intended as a measure of the quality of the com-
promises. The scenarios and their functional implementation can be rep-
resented cartographically, in text, and statistically.
Substantial components of MULBO are assessments of landscape functions
and multicriteria optimization. In the results, optimal land use options for
the decision-maker are calculated. The framework includes reiterations
and feedback loops. This enhances opportunities for stakeholder involve-
ment. Spatial assessments are the basis for the whole method and have to
be carried out for all landscape ecological and socioeconomic functions that
should be integrated into the planning process.
The multicriteria optimization is a linear programming method
(Werner, 1993) achieving results that can be considered as optimal compro-
mises between different goal functions (Grabaum and Meyer, 1998). These
goal functions may often be mutually conflicting. The assessment results
(i.e., the results of each goal divided into classes) are used in compromise
programming as coefficients for the goal functions. The basic idea in com-
promise programming is to identify an ideal solution that is a point of ref-
erence for decision-making that seeks then a solution as close as possible to
this ideal point (Romero, 2001).
MULBO now offers an integrative framework in landscape assessment
and scenario building for the support of land use decisions. In principle,
MULBO is suitable for the application in various planning procedures at dif-
ferent scales (e.g., urban planning and regional planning).
SEAMLESS model, developed by a European project, focuses on the land-
bound agricultural activities (arable cropping, grasslands, livestock, and peren-
nials, including orchards, agroforestry, and vineyards) and their interactions with
the environment, economy, and rural development (van Ittersum et al., 2008).
Important sources are the European soil map, climate data from the
MARS (Monitoring Agriculture with RS) database, Farm Accountancy
Data Network (FADN), Eurostat, and the GTAP databases.
It aimed at developing a computerized, integrated, and working frame-
work (SEAMLESS-IF) to assess and compare alternative agricultural and
environmental policy options, allowing
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240 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

– analysis at the full range of scales while focusing on the most important
issues emerging at each scale;
– analysis of the environmental, economic, and social contributions of a
multifunctional agriculture toward sustainable rural development and
rural viability;
– analysis of a broad range of issues and agents of change, such as climate
change, environmental policies, and rural development options.

5.2. Crop yield and quality

Crop model application in irrigated watersheds must simulate accurately the
growth of crops because it determines N uptake, which is a relevant com-
ponent of the N cycle. Crop ET and irrigation application should be
modeled with particular attention. Moreover, models must be capable of
simulating different irrigation systems and scheduling strategies and different
N fertilizer management (N rates, application methods, and N splitting) if
different strategies are to be assessed to reduce N loads.
Several applications have been reported in the literature.
Cavero et al. (2011) analyzed with the Agricultural Policy/Environmen-
tal eXtender (APEX) model (Williams and Izaurralde, 2005), Soil and Water
Assessment Tool (SWAT) (Arnold, 1998), and its combination SWAPP
(Saleh and Gallego, 2007) the best management practices (BMPs) for reduc-
ing off-site N loads in the irrigation return flows (IRFs) of three Mediter-
ranean irrigated watersheds.
APEX is an effective tool to assess BMPs for reducing N loads because of
its detailed agronomic simulations (Borah et al., 2006).
The APEX model, calibrated and validated in three Mediterranean
(Turkey, Spain, and Algeria) irrigated watersheds along three hydrologic years,
provided adequate simulations for the annual volume of IRF and its N loads.
APEX simulated that irrigation improvement was the best management option
to reduce N loads in the IRF of the three studied watersheds. In contrast,
N fertilization improvement was much less efficient. In consequence, the com-
bination of improved irrigation and N fertilization provided insignificant
N load decreases, as compared to the improved irrigation scenario.
APEX simulations properly identify the main soil and crop N polluters
within the studied watersheds. Soils with relatively low water-holding prop-
erties and crops heavily fertilized or with shallow rooting depths should be
targeted to improve its management in order to minimize N loads in drain-
age waters.
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Decision Support Systems to Manage Irrigation 241

5.3. Pollution management

Panagopoulos et al. (2012) reported an activity about the application of
BMPs in Greece. Their impact is highly dependent on the characteristics
of the crops and of the land in which they are to be applied. They want
to demonstrate a new methodology and associated decision support tool that
suggests the optimal location for placing BMPs to minimize diffuse surface
water pollution at the catchment scale, by determining the trade-off among
economic and multiple environmental objectives. The DSS tool consists of a
nonpoint source pollution estimator, the SWAT model, a genetic algorithm,
which serves as the optimization engine for the selection and placement of
BMPs across the agricultural land of the catchment, and an empirical eco-
nomic function for the estimation of the mean annual cost of BMP
In the proposed DSS tool, SWAT was run a number of times equal to the
number of tested BMPs, to predict nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) and total phos-
phorus (TP) losses from all the agricultural hydrologic response units (HRUs)
and possible BMPs implemented on them. The results were then saved in a
database, which was subsequently used for the optimization process. Fifty dif-
ferent BMPs, including sole or combined changes in livestock, crop, soil, and
nutrient application management in alfalfa, corn, and pastureland fields, were
evaluated in the reported application of the tool in a catchment in Greece, by
solving a three-objective optimization process (cost, TP, and NO3-N).
In the EU project SAFIR1, a model system was developed that combines
irrigation management with risk evaluation (Styczen et al., 2010). The system
was applied to field-scale irrigation management and aimed at assisting users
in identifying safe modes of irrigation when applying low-quality water. The
cornerstone of the model system is the deterministic “plant–soil–atmosphere”
model DAISY, which simulates crop growth, water and nitrogen dynamics,
and, if required, heavy metals and pathogen fate in the soil.
The model system, which is described in detail in Styczen et al. (2009),
consists of
1. the plant–soil–atmosphere (PSA) model, DAISY (Abrahamsen and
Hansen, 2000; Hansen et al., 1990),
2. an irrigation and fertigation strategy (IF) module,
3. a water source administration (WSA) module,
4. a risk assessment (RA) module, and
5. an economy module.
DAISY solves Richards’s equation, using data of the hydraulic properties of
the soil. Furthermore, data on texture, organic matter, and N content are
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242 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

required. DAISY is equipped with a number of parameterized crop models,

but the SAFIR project only dealt with potatoes and tomatoes. DAISY allows
specification of whether the irrigation water is applied by sprinkler or by drip
irrigation to the surface or at a given depth below the surface. Furthermore,
tillage and fertilizer or manure additions are specified. It calculates organic
matter turnover, typically including six organic pools and the mineral nitro-
gen balance. The PSA model output are: water content in the root zone,
water content at field capacity and at wilting point, critical N content in
the crop, potential N content in the crop, actual N content in the crop,
and DAISY’s crop development stage.
The PSA model input are: irrigation water to apply in the next time
step, nitrogen content of irrigation water, differentiated in ammonia-N
and nitrate-N, heavy metal content and pathogen content of the irriga-
tion water. The Escherichia coli concentration is used as a pathogen
The IF module receives information from the PSA model about crop
development stage, soil water content, and nitrogen content. Based on this
and the user-defined irrigation and fertigation strategy, the IF module cal-
culates how much water should be supplied to the PSA model and if
fertigation should be added. The IF module passes on the water request
to the WSA module, which abstracts water from its defined sources, if avail-
able. The threshold values for initiating and ending irrigation as a function of
crop, irrigation method, and irrigation strategy were determined partly
through discussion with SAFIR participants and partly from a study of
the measurements of soil water in the experimental plots (field and labora-
tory) in combination with the soil retention properties. In addition to an
upper and lower threshold, “partial root drying” requires a threshold for
when to change irrigation from one side of the plant to the other.
The WSA module defines the water sources available for irrigation (typ-
ically groundwater, river water, or different wastewater) and certain water
treatment methods. Reservoirs for storage of water may be added in the
model between the source and the field to be irrigated.
The model allows also an estimation of the E. coli concentration and
heavy metals.
The model system provides profit calculations as postprocessing. The
calculation, which is carried out in Microsoft Excel, is simple; in short,
the value of the crop yield is calculated as a product of the quantity produced
and a (time-varying) price and compared to the fixed and variable costs
involved in irrigation and fertigation.
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Decision Support Systems to Manage Irrigation 243

5.4. Economic evaluation

In the irrigated areas, the pricing of irrigation water is very often calculated
according to the irrigated land area (India, China, Spain, Algeria, Egypt, and
Turkey). In some areas, a different price is yearly charged if crop is irrigated
or not. In other areas, especially new irrigated ones and where irrigation vol-
ume meters are available for each farm or field, the price is calculated for the
effective water used, with a fixed price m3 or with a price increasing pro-
portionally to the consumption (Israel, the United States, Cyprus, partially
Australia, Italy, and Spain) in order to avoid wastes. Some irrigation water
authorities adopt a binomial pricing system, with a flat rate for each land sur-
face unit served by the irrigation scheme and a price for each cubic meter of
water used.
The Water Framework Directive (WFD, Directive 2000/60/EC, 2000)
is a legislative framework for managing water resources in European Union
countries. The directive prescribes a set of environmental objectives
for water bodies that have to be met by 2015. The water authorities in
charge of WFD implementation have to analyze the ecological and chemical
status of water and to identify water bodies that are at risk of failing to achieve
these objectives.
Kanakoudis et al. (2012) proposed an Expert DSS to assess the full water
cost recovery (FWCR) incorporating the water and carbon footprint costs
into the resource and environmental costs, respectively, taking the sugges-
tions set by the WFD. The WFD states that FWCR should be based on the
estimation of the three subcosts related: direct, environmental, and resource
cost. It also strongly suggests the EU member states develop and apply effec-
tive water pricing policies to achieve FWCR. These policies must be socially
just to avoid any social injustice phenomena. This is a very delicate task to
handle, especially under the fragile economic conditions that the EU is fac-
ing today. Water losses play a crucial role for the FWC estimation, and this
support decision system helps to estimate them, because they are one of the
major “water uses” in any water supply network.


The definition of the proper scale at which to conduct the analysis is
one of the major issues to be solved in the modeling process. As is well
known, catchment is the correct scale to deal with the environment and
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244 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

to define policy. But the design of suitable policy should also be verified in
terms of cost and benefit for the stakeholders among which farmers are a rel-
evant component.
Choices regarding the use of water, the allocation of land for different
uses, and the adoption of technology, in other words all the actions that in
their interaction determine the state of the environment, are taken at a farm
level by users pursuing their private interest. A DSS designed to support
agricultural and water policy definition must be able to explore the link
existing between the previous two levels and to evaluate alternative
approaches to manage environmental impacts determined by agricultural
In many areas of the world, the costs of water distribution are still charged
to farmers per unit of irrigated area. However, society is increasingly
demanding better water use policies, including billing water costs propor-
tionally to the volume of water used. In some areas of the world, penalty
systems are used in conjunction with proportional billing to discourage
the excessive use of irrigation water. These management strategies can ben-
efit from using computers and specialized databases.

6.1. Examples of DSS applied at a field/farm scale

CropWat (Smith, 1992) is an empirical DSS developed by the Land and
Water Division of the FAO and is well known to farmers for its easy esti-
mation of crop water demands under different irrigation practices. The
model considers climate, soil, and crop data. The model is based on the
FAO Irrigation and Drainage Papers No. 56 “Crop evapotranspiration”
and No. 33 “Yield response to water,” and for the latter, its fundamental
equation was described by Jensen (1968) where the relative loss in yield is
proportional to the relative reduction in ET. The Penman–Monteith equa-
tion and respective crop coefficients are used to calculate ET rates. Crop
growth is simulated by the so-called linear model where gross dry matter
production of a standard crop is empirical calculated and crop-dependent
correction factors for climate, growth, and yield are applied (Doorenbos
and Kassam, 1979).
The AquaCrop model (Steduto et al., 2009) evolved from FAO Irriga-
tion and Drainage Paper No. 33 “Yield Response to Water” (Doorenbos
and Kassam, 1979), a key reference for estimating yield response to water,
and recently described and applied to case studies for several crops in the
FAO Paper No. 66 (Steduto et al., 2012).
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Decision Support Systems to Manage Irrigation 245

In FAO Paper No. 33, the relationship that links crop productivity to the
amount of water used is expressed by the following equation:
Yx  Ya ETx  ETa
¼ ky ð6:1Þ
Yx ETx

where Yx and Ya are the potential and the actual yield, respectively; ETx and
ETa are the maximum and the actual ET, respectively; and ky is the propor-
tionality factor between the loss in crop productivity and the relative ET
AquaCrop further develops Eq. (6.1) by
1. separating ET into soil evaporation (E) and crop transpiration (Tr) to
avoid the confounding effect of the nonproductive consumptive use
of water (E); this is particularly important during the initial crop cycle,
when the canopy does not cover the soil completely;
2. normalizing Tr with ET0 to make the biomass–transpiration (B–Tr)
relationship applicable to different climatic regimes;
3. using daily time steps (either calendar or growing degree days) to take
into account the dynamic nature of water stress and crop responses in
a more realistic way;
4. obtaining biomass (B) from the product of WP and accumulated crop
5. expressing the final yield (Y) as the product of B and harvest index (HI);
this partition allows us to differentiate the functional relationships
between water availability and biomass from those between water avail-
ability and HI.
Both Eq. (6.1) and the AquaCrop model are “water-driven” in their crop
growth engine. However, AquaCrop focuses more on the relationship
between biomass and transpiration rather than Y and ET, basing itself on
the robustness of the “biomass WP,” also known as biomass water use effi-
ciency (WUE) or WP coefficient.
The WP is the core of the model; within other models, there are also
submodels: soil and water balance; crop and development, growth, and
yield; atmosphere and thermal regime; rainfall, evaporative demand, and
CO2 concentration; and management and major agronomic practices such
as irrigation and fertilization. The AquaCrop flowchart is shown in Fig. 6.1.
AquaCrop presents some key features that distinguish it from other crop
growth models. The canopy ground cover (CC) is used by the model to rep-
resent canopy development rather than LAI; the CC triggers three fundamental
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I Irrigation
T Air temperature RAINFALL Tn, Tx ET0 Es Ta
ET0 Reference
evapotranspiration WP
Leaf expansion gs
Ta Actual canopy
Es Soil evaporation
gs Stomatal conductance ROOTS (depth) Soil
WP Water productivity coefficient
(1) (2) (3) (4)
HI Harvest index
CO2 Atmospheric carbon dioxide
concentration Infiltration
Ks Stress coefficient
Redistribution Uptake
(1), (2), (3), (4), (5):

Feedbacks/feedforwards from water stress Capillary Deep

rise percolation

Figure 6.1 Flow chart of AquaCrop components showing the main components
of the soil–plant–atmosphere continuum and the parameters driving phenology,
canopy cover, transpiration, biomass production, and final yield (Steduto et al., 2012).

processes: leaf expansion, transpiration regulated by stomatal conductance (gs),

and senescence caused by loss in transpiration and ability to assimilate. The bio-
mass is calculated using the WP normalized for the climate, that is, for the ET0,
so that it can be used in different climatic regions in time and space. The HI
coefficient provides the partitioning of biomass into productive and nonpro-
ductive dry matter. The HI is modulated by water stress with negative or pos-
itive variations in HI values depending on the intensity, timing, and duration of
the stress. Water flows in the soil are simulated with a “cascade movement,”
that is, different soil layers are considered as reservoirs, whose maximum capa-
bility limit is expressed by the field capacity; if the water in a single layer
overcomes this threshold, the excess falls into the layer below.
This new model was built to reduce complexity as much as possible while
maintaining an optimal balance between simplicity, accuracy, and robustness.
AquaCrop model has been used in several ways: developing a seasonal
irrigation schedule for a specific crop and field, determining the date of next
irrigation, determining the seasonal water requirements and its components
for various crops on a farm, developing deficit and supplemental irrigation
programs at a field scale, developing water production functions, and using
them in economic decision tools ( i.e., Rinaldi et al., 2011).
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Developed in Australia, IrriSatSMS uses satellite-derived crop coeffi-

cients in a daily water balance approach (Car et al., 2012). An overview
of the DSS’s architecture, as well as the methods of communication used
between components, is shown in Fig. 6.2. The central server hosted the
DSS calculation code (Microsoft C#.NET3), the Web page presentation
(ASP.NET4), and the database (MySQL5). The cellular gateway service
was a SOAP6-based Web service that accepted text generated by the
DSS and passed it to commercial cellular networks in Australia that distrib-
uted the text via SMS to users’ mobile phones.
The DSS uses four kinds of data to generate decision support. They
include the following:
1. Weather data: These are obtained daily from a weather station Web
server, which in turn collects the data from a weather station network
using dial-up radio modems.
2. Irrigation management unit (IMU) measurements: An IMU is a crop area of
one or more fields but under a single irrigation management regime—
measurements were performed of geographic location, area, and the irri-
gation system application rate. This information is manually entered into
the DSS database.

Figure 6.2 System diagram of the IrriSatSMS DSS showing components and communi-
cation methods (Car et al., 2012).
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248 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

3. Satellite image data of land surface reflectance values: These are used to esti-
mate crop ground coverage. These data are collected from satellite
images and processed to produce one average Kc reading per IMU
per satellite pass. These are then also stored in the DSS database.
4. Irrigation application and rainfall data: These data are sent in by irrigators for
their specific IMU to the DSS via SMS. Once SMS messages are
received, values are automatically time-stamped and stored in the DSS
database to contribute to individuals’ water balances. Thus, the number
and frequency of irrigator responses to the system are tracked. Incoming
irrigation and rainfall messages are processed automatically with custom
software to feed information directly into the water balance model.
DSS output messages were sent to irrigators at 7:30 a.m. as most claimed to
check their crop and irrigation systems in the morning. In the application
reported by Car et al. (2012) that all of the irrigators were using drip irriga-
tion systems, the DSS calculated a daily dripper run time (DRT), for each
IMU, based on a cumulative calculated crop water deficit (CWD) and using
measured system parameters, as in Eq. (6.2):
DRT ¼  60  CWD ð6:2Þ
where DRT is dripper run time (min), Ae is area per emitter (m2), Apr is
emitter application rate (l/h), and CWD is crop water deficit as depth per
unit area (mm).
Cumulative (from the start of the season to the current date) CWD was
calculated from cumulative effective rainfall (PR, in mm), irrigation (PI, in
mm), and crop evapotranspiration (PETc) per Eq. (6.3):

CWD ¼ SR þ SI  SETc ð6:3Þ

Irrigation values in millimeters were calculated from DRTs and rainfall

values were measured by farmers individually using their own rain gauge.
ETc was determined from ET0 and Kc using Eq. (6.4) following the
method outlined in the Allen et al. (1998) but using a modified Penman
equation with parameters for the test area:

ETc ¼ ET0  Kc ð6:4Þ

The daily ET0 readings were calculated from local automatic weather
station data. Monthly Kc values were determined for each irrigator’s individ-
ual IMU from RS using NDVI.
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Decision Support Systems to Manage Irrigation 249

Using the water balance calculations described in the preceding text,

each irrigator was sent a daily SMS that provided the length of time, calcu-
lated from the CWD that the irrigation system should be run in order to
replace the CWD. Care was taken to start irrigators’ water balances at a
“zero” point or point of time at which their IMU had a zero CWD. This
was realized practically by starting irrigators either after a reasonable rainfall
event or after a large, early season, irrigation.
The approach in this DSS means that irrigators are not told specifically
when or how much to irrigate but rather just how much they will have to
irrigate, on any given day, to return their CWD to zero. The irrigators retain
full flexibility of time to irrigate and the quantity of water to apply and,
therefore, are able to continue to adjust their irrigation regimes to suit their
own particular conditions and preferences.
The only monetary cost to irrigators associated with participation in this
trial is the cost of sending SMS of irrigation and rainfall.
CropIrri was established in China to develop an irrigation DSS and to
operate optimal allocation of water resources in irrigation districts (Zhang
and Feng, 2010). The flowchart of CropIrri is shown in Fig. 6.3. ETm is
the maximum crop ET on day i, SWBM is soil water balance model, and
CWPFM is crop water production function model.

data EPi Irrigation
ETmi schedule
Crop data
Phenology model

Soil data

Root growth model Gi



Figure 6.3 Irrigation flowchart of CropIrri (Zhang and Feng, 2010). The subscript “i” indi-
cates a “i-th” day; SWi-1 is soil water depletion in the root zone at end of the previous day,
i-1, ETai is actual crop evapotranspiration; ETmi is maximum crop evapotranspiration; EPi
is effective precipitation; Gi is capillary rise from the groundwater table; IRRi is net irri-
gation; TAWi is total available soil water in the root zone.
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250 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

CropIrri system was designed for dryland crops (wheat, maize, and soy-
bean) to provide a practical decision tool for irrigation management. The
main functions include
1. irrigation decision services to evaluate crop water requirements and to
make presowing and the real-time irrigation schedule based on the his-
torical weather data and weather forecast information,
2. to simulate daily change of soil moisture in the root zone,
3. to evaluate a given irrigation schedule and to develop a better alternative
irrigation schedule,
4. to modify the planned results according to the measured actual soil moisture
content during crop growth period to enhance the forecasting accuracy,
5. database management capability.
CropIrri system combines environmental conditions, like climate and soil,
with crop growth characteristics as a whole, and was established using soil
water balance model, crop phenology model, root growth model, crop
water production function, and irrigation decision-making model (Fig. 6.3).
Soil water balance model can reflect the dynamics of soil water content in
root zone and can be expressed as flow equation (Allen et al., 1998). The
calculation method of ETc is adopted from FAO-56. It equals crop water
requirement multiplied by the soil water stress coefficient.
The simulation of crop development is the key point to estimate the irri-
gation date. The crop phenology model was adopted and it is based on mul-
tiannual mean meteorologic data in crop growing region, which allow to
simulate the length of growth stages with different sowing dates.
Root growth model is used to calculate soil water content in the root
zone. The planting depth (generally 0.03–0.05 m) is considered as the initial
crop rooting depth, and maximum rooting depth (soybean is 0.6–1.3 m and
maize is 1–1.7 m) was adopted.
The module of crop water production function mode is used for eval-
uating the impact of irrigation schedule on crop yield. Yield reduction is
expressed by the difference between the highest yield and the actual yield
(highest yield means the output under nonlimiting irrigation schedule).
Water shortage at certain stage not only affects crop growth during this
period but also affects the whole development of the plants.
Irrigation decision-making concerns the date and amount of irrigation
and the impact of selected irrigation schedule on crop yield. CropIrri sup-
plies four irrigation scheduling:
1. Nonlimiting: It meets the need of crop water requirements and obtains
maximum crop production. By comparing the daily soil moisture deficit
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Decision Support Systems to Manage Irrigation 251

with readily available moisture in the soil profile, when soil moisture def-
icit approaches readily available moisture, water stress occurs and irriga-
tion is made. Soil water content is replaced to 80% of field capacity to
avoid deep water losses.
2. Water saving: The aim is to obtain highest yield with highest WUE. The
critical period of water requirement is booting stage for wheat and
flowering stage for soybean. The critical period of water requirement
is from flowering stage to milk stage for maize. When the soil moisture
content in the root zone is below the appropriate low-limited water con-
tent, irrigation schedule is made to irrigate to the appropriate upper-
limited water content.
3. Irrigation with experience: Irrigation is made by taking into account the
farmer’s experience. In order to ensure crop emergence, priority should be
given to sowing irrigation and then to consider the importance of the crop
water requirement to determine irrigation plan. Taking wheat as an exam-
ple, if one irrigation is planned, it should be applied at the booting period.
If two irrigations are needed, it should be applied at turning green stage and
booting stage if wheat was irrigated at sowing and at winter stage and
booting stage if wheat was not irrigated at sowing. Each irrigation amount
should reach the soil water content at 80% of field capacity.
4. Advanced: The mode of advanced irrigation schedule is for researchers and
technicians. Users can customize the date and amount of irrigation for dif-
ferent purposes, such as periodic irrigation with certain amount of water,
for example, irrigation with 50 mm of water or soil water content reaching
to field capacity at soil moisture content decreasing to 60% of field capacity
or irrigation with 100 mm at fixed interval of 30 days. This way we can
understand the change of soil moisture content and crop water consump-
tion. This could support and assist scientific research in crop water relation.
MODERATO is a management-oriented cropping system model devel-
oped for use at a strategic level by irrigation advisors (Bergez et al.,
2001). It includes the main constraints specifically related to irrigation (work
time, available amount of water, flow rate, and blackout days), simulates the
plant–soil system with a dynamic biophysical model (parameterized on a
large database), and takes into account within-field variability that results
from sequentially irrigating the plots in a block of irrigation. Five elementary
irrigation rules are distinguished: (1) to irrigate to facilitate plant emergence,
(2) to decide when to start the main irrigation period, (3) to determine when
to start a new irrigation cycle, (4) to decide when to stop irrigation, and (5) to
delay irrigation due to weather conditions. The elementary rules consist of
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252 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

two Boolean conditions that depend, respectively, on development stage

and soil water availability. The details of the rules are inputted using a graph-
ical user interface. The dynamic biophysical model is based on the well-
known solar radiation interception–dry matter conversion process. The
model outputs allow the consequences of the decision rules for various cli-
matic series and context to be analyzed. MODERATO is the result of 3 years
of collaborative research between scientists and irrigation advisors and has
been used to calculate optimized starting and ending rules for irrigation
on a specific pedoclimate.
It has been developed for use by irrigation advisors confronted with the
question: “How to irrigate maize with a limited amount of irrigation
water?” MODERATO is meant to be used before the irrigation campaign
to develop decision rules taking into account the irrigation context and dif-
ferent aspects of crop performance (yield, water drainage, etc.). These rules
can then be tested on a climatic series not only to obtain average results but
also to develop risk analyses on the decision rules. MODERATO can be
used to simulate the consequences and to determine the optimum thresholds
of the different rules previously reported.
The components are related to hydraulic context, mode of action; agro-
nomic models; and timer and agroeconomic evaluator. This DSS was used in
southwestern France to evaluate, also from an economic point of view,
maize irrigation scheduling.
The authors highlighted also three main sources of error involved in the
general biophysical uncertainty associated with the model: (1) in the param-
eters of the equations, (2) in the data used to initialize the state variables and
the driving variables, and (3) in the description of the processes.
HydroLOGIC was designed in Australia, mainly to evaluate the conse-
quences of several irrigation strategies and to explore options to optimize yield
and WUE at a field level in cotton (Richards et al., 2008). This information
maybe subsequently used to assess economic and environmental conse-
quences resulting from differences in irrigation production practice. Embed-
ded within the HydroLOGIC system is the OZCOT cotton crop simulation
model (Hearn, 1994), which predicts daily crop growth and water use.
Predictions of yield and water use are based on potential growth deter-
mined by OZCOT, historical climate records, and the alternative irrigation
management scenarios for the rest of the season. HydroLOGIC is also
designed to balance calibrated soil moisture monitoring systems.
The HydroLOGIC interface can be divided into five main components
within the broad functional areas outlined in Fig. 6.4, each of which is
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Decision Support Systems to Manage Irrigation 253

Historical Current Crop Crop Input

climate weather profiles observations screens

Scenario generator Datastore Report manager

• future scenario details • All crop details • Calls OZCOT object Software
• Locality information • Processes output infrastructure
• Prints report

OZCOT Object
OZCOT DLL • Write input files Model
• Execute OZCOT linkage
• Import output files

Figure 6.4 HydroLOGIC scheme (Richards et al., 2008).

described in the succeeding text: crop profile, climate and weather, crop
observations, scenario generator, and the report generator.
In Denmark, a DSS for irrigation, PlanteInfo Irrigation Manager
(Thysen and Detlefsen, 2006), was added to the program named PlanteInfo
(Thysen and Jensen, 2004). The DSS was originally developed for the per-
sonal computer (PC) with facilities for downloading weather data by
modem. The crop and water model was reimplemented exactly as in the
PC version and coupled to the weather database in PlanteInfo.
The user interface, however, was redesigned completely according to the
formats, requirements, and layout principles of the Web browser. PlanteInfo
Irrigation Manager was expanded and refined over the years, in response to
feedbacks from users (farmers and advisers).
PlanteInfo Irrigation Manager has the characteristic to be entirely Web-
based in terms of input of farm and field data, automatic supply of weather
data, and consulting for advice.
The model supports the major agricultural crops in Denmark: beets, pea,
potato, maize, spring and winter barley, rye, spring and winter wheat, spring
and winter rape, and grass. The model runs with daily time steps. Crop
growth and development are driven by three state variables, root depth, phe-
nological stage, and LAI. All three variables are determined by degree days
with base 0  C since emergence or growth starts in spring, depending on
crop-specific parameters. Soils are classified by the Danish soil-type system
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254 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

and each soil type is attributed with a set of hydrologic parameters. Some of
these parameters can be calculated from soil texture. Soil water is calculated
by a simple system keeping for daily input of water from precipitation and
irrigation and daily outputs from evaporation (evaporation from soil and
crop surface and transpiration).
In Italy, Bazzani (2005) described a DSS created for the economic eval-
uation of irrigation water. DSIRR represents a step to fill the previous gap,
in the direction of integrating agronomic, technical, and environmental
aspects with economic theory in a multicriteria framework using mathemat-
ical programming techniques.
The main characteristics of DSIRR are
1. the capacity to describe the irrigation process at a farm level, in terms
of technologies (furrow, sprinkler, drip, etc.), irrigation needs by crop
and type of soil, and climate (rain), in both physical and economical
2. an explicit consideration of agronomic aspects, like water-yield functions
and rotations;
3. a good capacity to represent farmers’ behavior, because of the MCA
approach adopted;
4. the integration of different types of farms at catchment level;
5. an internal archive of models suitable for different analysis;
6. a modular architecture, which enables further development to cope with
new needs; and
7. an open structure to exchange data with other applications and models.
Most crop models have many distinctive features while having also sufficient
similarities, especially in certain basic physiological processes. This induced
new approaches in crop modeling development, where a modular platform
implements the unifying physiological principles into a “crop template”
while allowing several alternative processes to be employed. Examples of this
approach are represented by APSIM and by the decision support system for
agrotechnology transfer (DSSAT).
The Agricultural Production System Simulator (APSIM) (Keating et al.,
2003) is a mechanistic crop growth model. It was developed in Australia to
simulate biophysical processes in farming systems by a modular approach to
crop modeling. There are sets of modules for simulating biological and phys-
ical processes and management modules that specify management practices
for the intended scenario and those control the simulation. Physical pro-
cesses include soil water movement and solute transport, soil nitrogen, soil
phosphorous, soil pH, and erosion.
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The soil water balance is implemented by two commonly used

approaches; cascading layer and Richards equation. The matter transport
is managed by the combined numerical solution of Richards equation
and convection–dispersion equation. APSIM can be utilized for a wide
range of grain and fiber crops mostly grown in temperate and tropical
Where biophysical modules are available, the model simulates growth,
development, and yield. Crops currently included are barley, cotton, maize,
peanut, sorghum, sunflower, wheat, and others. The model operates on
daily time steps.
The APSIM irrigate module allows the user to specify irrigation sched-
ules across multiple years, organize an automatic irrigation schedule calcu-
lated on soil moisture, specify both schedules to be turned on or off at any
time in a simulation, and apply solutes in irrigation water for redistribution
via the water balance module.
DSSAT was originally developed to facilitate the application of crop
models in a systems approach to agronomic research (Jones et al., 2003).
Its initial development was motivated by a need to integrate knowledge
about soil, climate, crops, and management for making better decisions
about transferring production technology from one location to others where
soils and climate differed. DSSAT was developed to operationalize this
approach and make it available for global applications. The DSSAT helps
decision-makers by reducing the time and human resources required for
analyzing complex alternative decisions. Application at a field level of
DSSAT in irrigation-scheduling comparison is reported on field crops
(Rinaldi, 2003; Rinaldi et al., 2007); at a larger scale, thanks to the link
to GIS (AegisWin program, Engel et al., 1997), case studies to evaluate
the spatial and temporal distributions of agricultural water requirement in
northern China (Yang et al., 2010) and in Brazil (Heinemann et al.,
2002) are reported.
CropSyst, a generic crop growth model characterized by both solar-
and water-driven growth engines (Stockle et al., 2003), was applied to pear
orchard to forecast plant water potential for irrigation management recom-
mendations. Plant water potential is predicted along with tree transpiration
using Ohm’s law analogy. Several conditions of a deficit-irrigated field
experiment in a pear orchard were well simulated. Each condition differed
in soil texture, time of irrigation cutoff, crop load, and tree leaf area. Deficit
irrigation was managed first by withholding irrigation until reaching a
threshold in midday stem water potential of 1.5 MPa. Subsequently,
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256 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

irrigation was applied at fixed proportions of full irrigation requirements.

Simulations with CropSyst were used as DSS that could work independently
of stem water potential measurements (Marsal and Stockle, 2010).
WaterSense (Inman-Bamber et al., 2007) was developed to help growers
with limited water to plan irrigation through the season with these uncer-
tainties by working out the most likely yield achievable with a given alloca-
tion, soil type, planting date, and past rainfall and irrigation. WaterSense then
schedules irrigation to meet this yield target, which can change as actual rain-
fall deviates from historical records and with changing allocation. WaterSense
combines up-to-date weather data, entry of paddock details, crop growth sim-
ulations, and routines to identify optimal irrigation strategies to deliver a plan
or schedule for irrigations for the remainder of the season. Irrigators are also
able to compare their own soil moisture measurements with those predicted
by WaterSense and are able to adjust irrigations accordingly.
A key difference between WaterSense and many other irrigation-
scheduling systems is the optimization of irrigation scheduling throughout
the entire season and the ability to readjust this schedule throughout the sea-
son. This moves the DSS from an exploratory simulation tool to a tactical
irrigation tool. It should be noted that WaterSense operates at the paddock
scale only so it is unable to address within-field spatial variability.

6.2. Examples of DSS applied at a district scale

The running of models at a larger scale requires integration between GIS and
the simulation models. Each simulation unit is characterized by a combina-
tion of crop, soil, weather codes, and geographic references; the model pro-
gram reads the crop, soil, and weather input files and simulates a selected
crop scenario; finally, simulation results relative to a given date or summed
up for a selected period of time are mapped for the selected areas.
The GIS database is constituted by point and polygon themes data, the
first relative to weather data and the second to soil, crops, and field data.
Weather data refer to one or more years. When weather data series are used,
the integrated DSS with GIS allows multiple simulations to determine the
frequency of crop water and irrigation requirements or to perform an irri-
gation planning analysis relative to selected years such as dry, average, and
wet years. The meteorologic stations are identified and the respective
weather data are stored in ASCII files formatted according to model require-
ments. Access database is used to store the nonspatial data that will be
coupled with the respective polygon GIS themes.
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The database is usually constituted by the following tables:

1. The crop sequence table, which defines the annual crop sequences and
concerns data on these crops and on the respective irrigation method used.
2. The crop table, including the crop identification code and its designa-
tion; the crop input data required for computing the ETc.
3. The irrigation method table, containing the code and designation of the
irrigation method and the respective fraction of soil surface wetted by
4. The soil table, including the soil identification code and designation and
the soil data required for performing the water balance of the evaporative
layer and the soil water balance of the cropped soil.
The characteristics of each simulation unit (cropped field) are identified by
the GIS through spatial data relative to crops, soils, and meteorologic stations
concerning the following input themes:
1. A polygon theme with the delimitation of the crop fields, which is asso-
ciated with a table relative to field attributes, including the identification
code of each crop field, the identification of the annual crop succession,
and other information supplied by the user.
2. A polygon theme with the delimitation of soil types having associated a
table of soil attributes and where soils are identified by an
appropriate code.
3. A point theme with the location of the meteorologic stations, which is
also associated with a table of attributes where the meteorologic stations
are identified by a code. The spatial simulation starts by loading the spa-
tial and nonspatial database followed by GIS overlay procedures that
allow the identification of the soil, climate, and cropping characteristics
of each cropped field.
The GIS generates a Thiessen polygons theme that defines the geographic
influence of each meteorologic station. Thus, by overlaying the meteoro-
logic Thiessen polygons theme with the field polygons theme, the climate
data can be assigned to each field. In the following, a selection of the fields to
be considered for the simulation is performed. Noncropped fields are
excluded. The last overlay procedures consist of the intersection between
the soils themes and the cropped fields, which is followed by the identifica-
tion of the dominant soil type in each field polygon, so assigning only one
soil data set to each field.
The definition of the irrigation options and water availability restrictions
to be considered when a simulation is carried out refers to the selection of
application depths and the definition of soil water thresholds. The water
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restrictions apply to selected time periods and refer to a minimum interval

between two successive irrigations or to the total water depth that may be
used for irrigation during a given time interval. Different water restrictions
and irrigation-scheduling options may be assigned to selected fields, crop
systems, or cropped areas through the simulation table.
Outputs can be presented in tabular, graphic, or mapping formats and
may concern a single field, all fields within a selected area, or the total area
under analysis. In addition, results may refer to a single date, for example,
crop water deficits at a selected day, or the total simulation period, for exam-
ple, the crop irrigation requirements relative to a selected scenario.
The Taiwan Water Resources Assessment Program to Climate Change
(TaiWAP) proposed a decision support tool, which integrates the common
procedures of impact assessment of climate change, including scenarios of
climate change released by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
downscaling, weather generation, hydrologic model, and interface for
linking system dynamics model (SDM) (Liu et al., 2009). This friendly tool
merely requires users to set up an SDM for their own purpose and make a
connection to the TaiWAP.
A generic database for the management of irrigation districts – the ADOR
software (Playan et al., 2007) – was developed and used in the Ebro Valley
(Spain). The ADOR software contains a database with reference crop water
requirements (ET0, in mm/day) calculated with the average climatic data for
different locations. Precipitation data are also contained in the database. Precip-
itation data recorded at the irrigation district can be introduced and used instead
of long-term precipitation records to determine irrigation water requirements
more precisely. The software contains a library of crop coefficients for several
crops and zones, which are used for the calculation of water requirements.
The seasonal irrigation performance index (SIPI, %, Eq. 6.5) is a simple
irrigation performance concept that can be considered as an estimate of irri-
gation efficiency (Dechmi et al., 2003; Faci et al., 2000). The SIPI can be
determined as follows:
Crop water requirements
SIPI ¼  100 ð6:5Þ
Water use
Water traceability in ADOR enables calculation of the SIPI index for
every plot or for larger spatial units. Maps of SIPI can be produced using
the GIS module. Areas or crops that are under or overirrigated can be iden-
tified, thus providing advanced water management tools to district
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A total of 40 irrigation districts (about 115,000 ha) used ADOR in Spain

during 2007.
The MULINO (mDSS, Mysiak et al., 2005) is a DSS that addresses com-
plex decision problems dealt with in water resource management. The sys-
tem is based on the DPSIR (driving force–pressure–state–impact–response)
framework (EEA, 1999), which guides problem structuring and exploration
and contributes to a better understanding of the problem. Simulation and
modeling (hydrologic models in particular) facilities help to analyze the cau-
ses and effects of environmental problems/conflicts and to derive the
expected outcomes of the courses of actions proposed. The multicriteria
decision functionality implemented allows the system to model users’ pref-
erences and to aggregate the performances of considered options with regard
to the decision criteria.
Several specific actions have been undertaken during the development of
mDSS in order to enhance the prospects of its success: future end users have
been constantly involved in its development and have made concrete con-
tributions to the design of the software. Attention has been paid to mDSS’s
user interface designed to guide users through environmental decision
Specifically, mDSS was designed for water resource management at
the catchment scale and to meet the requirements of the European WFD
(Giupponi, 2007). The efforts devoted to designing a user-friendly interface
were motivated by the fact that an unfriendly user interface is often the rea-
son for the low acceptance of DSS.
mDSS has been developed with the aim of guiding users through the
identification of the main driving forces and pressures on water status and
to help them explore and evaluate the possible measures.
The application of the MCA approach for environmental problems has
become very popular in the past decade with respect to water resources
management. The growing conflicts faced in water use have undoubtedly
been one motivation for developing decision methods that allow multiple
impacts to be explicitly considered in decision analysis (Hauger et al.,
2002; Wang et al., 2002).
It improves the ability of decision-makers to explore and assess trade-offs
between the achievements of alternatives and to analyze their impacts on
different stakeholders. The application of MCA approaches in mDSS has
been driven by the WFD requirement that the most appropriate program
of measures be chosen that guarantees the directive objectives will be
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Irrigation advisory services for farm water management of Italian

regional (Emilia Romagna) service are based on a water balance model
aimed at crop irrigation management at a field-scale IRRINET (Rossi
et al., 2004). The model includes the soil, with its water balance; the plant,
with its development and growth; and the atmosphere, with its thermal
regime, rainfall, and evaporation.
The main processes simulated by the model are as follows:
Water dynamics in soil. It considers three different soil layers:
– Soil surface layer: It takes into account of the ground roughness created by
tillage management.
– Root layer: This is the volume of soil explored by the roots. For fruit
trees, this is fixed; for other crops, it varies over time, according to growth
– Bottom layer: This is the layer below the “root layer” and will be
explored in the next step by growing roots.
The water storage is estimated by applying validated pedotransfer functions.
The model calculates runoff fractions; water drainage from the bottom layer
is a total loss for the system. The soil water content of the two lower layers
(root and bottom layer) is available to meet crop water requirements.
Crop development. Crop growth refers to both the sequence of develop-
ment phases and root system growth. The model does not take into account
the accumulation of biomass. Crop growth is simulated according to the
specific crop chronology, starting from the seeding, transplanting, or vege-
tative recovery for fruit crops. The change in crop stage is calculated by
means of degree day, which are specific for each crop growth stage.
Root system growth. Root system growth is calculated based on a function
that estimates the effect of demand (i) daily temperature; (ii) soil water con-
tent of the layer beneath the roots; and (iii) the growth stage, on the theo-
retical maximum growth rate of each crop (provided by experimental
research). For fruit tree crops, a fixed layer, which is constant over time,
has been used.
Crop water requirements. These are calculated by applying the evaporation
theory, following the succeeding steps:
1. Crop ET under standard conditions: ET data were obtained starting
from crop ET0 provided daily by the Italian Meteorological Regional
Service (ARPA SMR, using Hargreaves equation), which refers to a
6.25 km2 geographic grid covering the whole regional plain area.
FAO Kc factor, specific for each crop and each growth stage, is applied.
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The Kc factor is changed day by day, between stages, according to the

continuity equation.
2. Crop ET under nonstandard conditions: It means poor soil water con-
tent that causes crop water stress. According to the FAO (Paper No. 24)
theory that set up a specific soil humidity level under which crops reduce
their ET rate, the real crop ET can be calculated under field conditions.
Determination of the irrigation depth. Once soil/plant water balance has been
calculated, the model sets the water to be applied to the crop, that is, the
difference between the range values of the two soil water available thresh-
olds. The calculation of the irrigation depth plays a key role in the model,
affecting the other steps so much that it characterizes the model as exclu-
sively aimed at the field-scale irrigation.
The latest release has been developed using .NET (framework 2.0) and
SQLServer2000. It is a complex system consisting of three main modules:
Web application, external data importation module, and IrriSMS module.
The application uses a relational database that includes more than
70 tables with information about knowledge base area, area information,
user information (registered users only), and GIS data. SMS can be sent
to the mobile of registered users to alert in specific fields the irrigation time
and amount.
Mateos et al. (2002) presented SIMIS, a scheme irrigation management
information system. This software is in the category of DSS, although it
includes utilities for water allocation and administrative management. SIMIS
adds to the basic district management utilities tools based on crop water
requirements, irrigation scheduling, and scenario analysis. It was designed
primarily for open channel distribution systems, although it can accommo-
date pressurized systems. SIMIS also includes a module for the control of
maintenance activities and a GIS.
It involves the formulation and integration of three main components, a
database, an administrator model, and a graphical user interface (GUI), and
can incorporate the decision-makers’ own insights. A significant improve-
ment to the DSS is the dynamic decision support system (DDSS), which
allows routines of actualization, edition, and addition of data, providing
as a result accurate information in appropriated time and assisting adequately
the decision-making process (Flores et al., 2010). SIMIS uses a coherent
modeling approach based on the water balance, with two management
modules (the first for water management and the second for financial man-
agement). The water management module in SIMIS deals with four key
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issues: crop water requirements, seasonal irrigation planning, water delivery

scheduling, and recording water consumption, whereas the financial man-
agement deals with the incomes and costs viabilities. SIMIS also contains a
GIS, giving the option to visualize georeferenced information.
The online DDSS SIMIS was called INNOVA RIEGO, which is an
integrated assembly of mathematical models, data, and interpretative proce-
dures. It efficiently processes the inputs, runs the models, and gives the
results in real time in an easy way for interpretation. INNOVA RIEGO
involves an administrator model with decision-making capabilities, a rela-
tional database management system, and a GUI.
INNOVA RIEGO requires inputs related to water requirements and
water managements parameters. It was developed to assist the Chilean’s farm
water management.
Through the entire simulation process, the online DDSS submits output
parameters to evaluation, giving to the user recommendations to improve
their water management. For example, if INNOVA RIEGO evaluates
the application efficiency under an acceptable value, the system will recom-
mend to reduce the time of cutoff. INNOVA RIEGO gives as a result
the application efficiency, requirement efficiency, and total distribution
GISAREG derives by an integration of the ISAREG model with a GIS.
This application was developed in the framework of a research project aimed
at water saving and salinity control in selected irrigation areas of the Aral Sea
basin (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) (Fortes et al., 2005). The
ISAREG model performs the soil water balance at the field scale. The model
is described with detail by Pereira et al. (2003). The water balance considers a
multilayered soil and follows the classical approach of Doorenbos and Pruitt
(1977). Various time step computations are adopted, from daily up to
monthly, depending on weather data availability. Inputs are precipitation,
ET0, total and readily available soil water, soil water content at planting,
and crop factors related to crop growth stages, crop coefficients, root depths,
and water-yield response factors.
ISAREG can simulate irrigation scheduling according to user-defined
options such as
1. to define an irrigation scheduling to maximize crop yields, that is, with-
out crop water stress;
2. to define an irrigation scheduling using selected irrigation thresholds,
including allowed water stress and responding to water restrictions
imposed at given time periods;
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3. to evaluate yield and water use impacts of a given irrigation schedule;

4. to test the model performance against observed soil water data and using
actual irrigation dates and depths;
5. to execute the water balance without irrigation;
6. to compute the net crop irrigation requirements, including the fre-
quency analysis of irrigation requirements when a weather data series
is considered.
ISAREG was integrated with GIS following a close coupling strategy devel-
oped in a commercial GIS (ArcView 3.2). It was converted into dynamic
link libraries (DLL), that is, compiled collections of procedures or functions
that can be called from the new application and linked to it at run time.
The AQUATER software has been developed in Italy for the water man-
agement optimization in Mediterranean field cropping systems (Acutis et al.,
2010). Such crop simulation model implements several alternatives for each
process, using approach already well known and largely validated in the scien-
tific literature and used for practical application. The software implementation
requires an object-oriented language; the software development was based on
the Unified Modeling Language (UML) and used, when possible, existing free
modules and components. The software frame derives from the integration of
interchangeable and extensible components (Rizzoli et al., 2005). Moreover,
the model is an objective-oriented program (OOP) being a set of cooperating
objects. In OOP, each object is capable of receiving input data, processing data,
and sending output data to other objects as an independent unit with a distinct
task. The reliability to describe different HRUs, characterized by specific soil,
crop types, and weather data, is the first requirement for a territorial-scale soft-
ware analysis (Flügel, 2006). HRUs, even not geographically contiguous, can
be characterized by the same data set.
The DSS has been conceived in the AQUATER simulation model inte-
grated with GIS softwares. The required components have been added to
the simulation AQUATER in order to link the simulation model to the
GIS softwares. The model can read the data stored in shape files and to
update them with the data concerning the different variables. RS informa-
tion (optical and radar satellite sensors) can be used in simulation analysis.
When land cover data, LAI, and crop sowing (or transplanting) date are
available, remote detection information can be used in forcing procedure,
based on LAI detected values. Then, AQUATER model computes a
new value of leaf weight, as a function of the specific leaf area simulated
value; from leaf weight, the biomass of the different organs of the plant is
computed through partition coefficients of dry matter among the different
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plant organs (that model compute for each phenological development stage)
and, consequently, the total plant biomass. The model forces the calculation
when LAI data are provided by RS. The crop pertaining to each HRU is an
external input, based on ground information or on the basis of RS informa-
tion. Since errors in the identification of the crop can occur, the model is
able to restart when image analysis indicates that the crop effectively present
in a specific HRU is not the one assigned as input.
The available output is crop yield, ETa, irrigation seasonal volume, crop
water stress.
The MODULUS project was funded by the European Union to explore
the feasibility of directly integrating the results of various framework-funded
research projects—EFEDA, ERMES, ModMED, ARCHAEOMEDES,
EPPM, and MEDALUS. More specifically, MODULUS was designed to
integrate the “research” models developed in each of these projects in such
a way as to produce a tool to support “integrated environmental decision-
making” at a regional scale.
MODULUS DSS combined several models and gave them a visual inter-
face: a dynamic map where hydrologic, biological, and agronomic land-
scapes evolve on the screen in real time. The models from which these
components were derived were all intended for academic research and their
integration on a single platform was a demanding task (Oxley et al., 2004).
Initial calculations suggested that a single run of all the models to be inte-
grated would probably require tens and quite possibly hundreds of processor
hours. Simplifications and adaptations were therefore unavoidable.
The existing models have been integrated within the DSS, for policy
application, through a complete rebuilding of the model. This approach
allows the model to be specifically designed to meet the user requirements.
Realistically, for many research models, rebuilding is the only way in which
the very extensive end-user requirements outlined here can be fully met. At
the same time, the key innovations and most significant processes and lessons
from the original model can be transferred to the rebuilding. In this way, the
research model can be rationalized, simplified, modified to the correct scale,
and rebuilt according to the new objective.
Another model improved with the GIS integration is a user-friendly
Windows-based irrigation-scheduling model, modified to enhance its capa-
bilities by including a rice irrigation-scheduling model and GIS integration
and tested in Indian condition (George et al., 2004).
The modified model consists of submodels for irrigation scheduling of
both field crops and rice, reference crop ET and crop yield, and GUI.
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The GUI was developed using Microsoft Visual Basic and is based on
mouse-driven approach with pop-up Windows, pull-down menus, and
button controls. The model is based on a daily water balance approach
and requires climatic, crop, soil, and options data as the input.
In Florida (the United States), GWRAPPS DSS was developed for per-
mitting and planning irrigation water demand (Satti and Jacobs, 2003).
GWRAPPS operates in a Windows environment that tightly couples
ArcGIS (ESRI) with the agricultural field-scale irrigation requirements sim-
ulation (AFSIRS) model (Smajstrla and Zazueta, 1988) using object-
oriented technology. The AFSIRS numerical simulation model determines
the statistical characteristics of the irrigation requirements for a crop based on
soil type, irrigation system, growing season, long-term climate, and irriga-
tion management practice (Smajstrla, 1990). The model calculates the daily
soil water budget using the water balance approach that effectively models
crop water requirements in the southeastern United States. AFSIRS simu-
lates the dynamic processes of soil water infiltration, redistribution, and
extraction by ET as steady-state processes and schedules irrigation based
on an allowable level of soil water depletion from a two-layer crop root
zone. GWRAPPS can simultaneously simulate irrigation requirements of
thousands of farms that grow any of 60 crops including 16 perennial crops
(e.g., pasture, citrus, alfalfa, and turf ) and 44 annual crops (e.g., beans, cot-
ton, potatoes, and wheat) grown on any of the 766 soil types mapped in
Florida by the Soil Conservation Service using nine irrigation systems.
GWRAPPS consists of two system utilities (the system initialization tool
and the climate generation tool) and two analysis components (the permit-
ting tool and the planning tool).
The system utilities are used to set up and initialize the GWRAPPS. The
system initialization tool allows the user to specify the default GIS data layers
reducing the user input required for each simulation. The GWRAPPS cli-
mate generation tool generates spatially distributed climate maps using the
spline interpolation technique on measured daily climate data collected from
the climate station network within the region.
The analysis components determine water demand at single farm and/or
regional scales. The permitting tool operates at a single farm scale and allows
the user to simulate water requirements for a crop using either a single soil or
an area-weighted average of all the soils within the farm.
The integrated GIS system facilitates effective usage of spatial distributed
data to estimate farm and regional-scale irrigation requirements. GWRAPPS,
with multiple soils, can furnish a comprehensive picture of the total water
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demand that is not readily apparent due to the complex interaction of soil
characteristics and their relative contribution to the area of interest.
GWRAPPS provides water demand maps that facilitate the study of regional
irrigation requirements using farm-level inputs. A simple user-friendly inter-
face provides easy access to the components of the system by maintaining the
complex data and control transfer operations in the background. The system’s
most important feature is its ability to quickly and easily provide regional crop
water requirements for different drought scenarios.

6.3. Examples of DSS for irrigation scheme and design

The DSS-FS system was developed in the Czech Republic and tested in
Portugal and it was intended to support design and optimization of irrigation
and fertigation systems while increasing their environmental sustainability
(Moreira Barradas et al., 2012).
It includes a database, simulation models, and user-friendly interfaces. It
allows performance of ranking and the selection of design alternatives
through a multicriteria decision process. It consists of three components:
Irrimanager: Based on the FAO methodology (Allen et al., 1998), firstly
starts the process of obtaining an ET0 value, which is afterward adjusted
according to the dual crop coefficient approach. The DSS-FS estimates
the maximum soil available water according to its field capacity, wilting
point, and root depth. One of the innovative features of DSS-FS is to obtain
a better estimation of the volume of the wet cylinders beneath the drippers.
Irrisystem: In order to calculate the optimal number of irrigation sectors,
the program requires data about the spacing of the drippers or sprinklers in
the field that allows the computation of the total number of outlets per hect-
are. According to the flow rate of each outlet, the model obtains an ideal
flow rate per hectare to feed the outlets and as such allows them to work
at the proper pressure according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Crossing this information with the irrigation interval (hours) obtained by
the Irrimanager, it is possible to estimate the maximum number of sectors
that can complete irrigation before the end of the irrigation interval.
Fertigation: The DSS-FS starts calculating the system’s flow rate of raw water
into which is injected nutritive solution with known concentrations of each spe-
cies and the injection rate. Further calculation allows the concentration of each
species in equilibrium, so nutritive salt concentration to be known.
The Irrisystem component works as a system designer, estimating the
ideal dimensions in order to optimize the hydraulics of the irrigation system
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and its division into irrigation sectors. The user can try several solutions such
as pipes of different internal diameter and material and different flow rates for
the sprinklers and drippers and automatically observe the system’s consul-
tancy on his/her choices and the recommendations for better alternatives.
The applications on olive and grapes resulted in a large yield increase for
both crops, as compared to classical irrigation.
A DSS based on the combination of flow regimes generation in irrigation
systems operating on-demand was reported by Khadrea and Lamaddalena
(2010). AKLA is a model to assess the performance of pressurized distribu-
tion networks. The authors integrated ground-collected information (i.e.,
section length and nodes elevation) and performance analysis using AKLA
in a GIS environment. The result is a tool to aid in the analysis of irrigation
systems and to help time-manned, location-wise decision-making processes
for enhancing irrigation performance, addressing the present scenario and
future development.
AKLA consists of a multiple random generation of K hydrants simulta-
neously opened among the R total number (with K < R). Each generation
produces a hydrant configuration corresponding to a discharge configura-
tion or a flow regime. The state of satisfaction of each hydrant under differ-
ent flow regimes is analyzed and the critical zones of the scheme are
identified using the relative pressure deficit and reliability as performance
indicators. Both indicators are defined in mathematical terms at the
hydrant level.
This is an improvement over the classical methods, which consider only
one flow regime computed with probabilistic approaches. Based on this
analysis, the manager may decide to proceed with improvements either
by a rehabilitation process or by implementation of local solutions, that is,
suggesting to farmers to schedule their irrigation out of peak hours. Such
scenarios may be generated using the irrigation network database and the
results may be displayed on the georeferenced maps. Results obtained from
this study may facilitate the use of new technologies. In fact, when peak dis-
charges occur, exceeding the design capacity, the use of electronic cards to
control hydrants in identified failure areas could inhibit the irrigation during
peak hours. Through this control, irrigation applications can occur in the
failure area when upstream demand is lower. Consequently, hydrant perfor-
mance increases and on-farm operation improves. This approach may also
be easily used to simulate variations of possible future demand scenarios.
MIRRIG was developed to design drip and microsprinkling systems and
as a tool to advise farmers about how to improve their microirrigation
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systems when using data obtained during field evaluation of systems under
operation (Pedras et al., 2009). It is written in Visual Basic 6.0 and runs in a
Windows environment in a PC.
The conceptual scheme of the model consists of a database and models.
The model’s structure has four components: (1) a design module to itera-
tively size the pipe and emitters system for various design alternatives, (2)
a performance analysis module that simulates the functioning of the system
and computes the indicators used as attributes relative to the design criteria
adopted for the MCA (3) the MCA model ELECTRE II to rank the alter-
native design options, and (4) an evaluation module that supports the analysis
of data collected through field evaluations that can be used by designers and
irrigation advisers when interactively working with farmers to evaluate pos-
sible improvements.
MIRRIG is mainly oriented to design and select the pipe system and
emitters for an irrigation sector. It allows building up a variety of irrigation
system’s alternatives referring to both the pipe layout and the emitters. The
model considers localized head losses and the requirements for pressure con-
trollers when the variation of pressure within a given pipe network is exces-
sive. Pipe sizing in MIRRIG aims at finding the pipe diameters that best lead
to achieve the user’s performance targets relative to pressure variation within
the operating system, that is, that lead to the target uniformity of water appli-
cation (considering selected locations for pressure regulation valves). Itera-
tive computations are used to search for the best solution for each design
The design of an irrigation system is a multiobjective problem. Its solu-
tion implies that the decision-maker selects the best alternative based upon
the attributes of all considered alternatives relative to the objectives to be
achieved. Objectives are often adversative and a trade-off is required to
select the best solution. MCA is applied to support the decision-making pro-
cess of selection of the design alternative that better responds to the overall
In MIRRIG, MCA follows the performance analysis. The outranking
ELECTRE II method (Roy, 1996) is applied. It aims at ranking alternatives
based on a pairwise comparison of alternatives and evaluates the degree to
which scores in the criteria and their associated weights confirm or contra-
dict the dominate pairwise relationships. Concordance and discordance
concepts are used to rank the alternatives.
The DSS WISCHE (Water Irrigation for SCHEduling) provides a solu-
tion to the problem of assigning each member of Agriculture Community of
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Elche (southwest of Spain) to a set of consecutive time periods in the daily

irrigation scheduling, such that the water volume and the minimum service
pressure are guaranteed. In addition, the solution provided guarantees that
the water speed in the network does not exceed a previously fixed maximum
value (Alminana et al., 2010). It has been used in Spain for irrigation sched-
uling because water demand usually exceed water availability. The DSS
allows irrigation community managers to planning hydrant turns one week
in advance and to scheduling hydrant turns one day in advance.
Scheme irrigation management information system (SIMIS, partially
described in Section 6.2) began in 1993 as a DOS-based information system
(Sagardoy et al., 1994) designed to help managers and staff responsible for
irrigation schemes in their daily tasks by providing a comprehensive database
application. Training courses and field verifications were carried out in
Argentina, Egypt, Cuba, and Thailand. It was soon developed into an
MS Windows-based DSS, and in its current format, SIMIS is a DSS for help-
ing in the management of irrigation schemes (Mateos et al., 2002).
SIMIS allows the simulation of different cropping patterns, irrigation
network designs, water-distribution modalities, and water-distribution
schedules. It also provides a module for assessing irrigation planning scenar-
ios and management alternatives. The user can approach optimum alterna-
tives by simulating and assessing options, implementing them in the field if
feasible, and reassessing them. In contrast to other decision supports reported
in the literature designed to assist in planning and operation, SIMIS does not
attempt to identify optimal parameters, but acts as a tool in the learning pro-
cess toward satisfactory irrigation management.
SIMIS uses a coherent modeling approach in all of its component mod-
ules based on the water balance, together with capacity constraints. This
simplification is used for modeling the root zone water balance and in the
distribution model. The root zone water balance is conducted by daily time
steps. The distribution model covers canals, pipes, reservoirs, and secondary
sources. Each component constrains the system according to its volume
capacity or its carrying capacity. Canals and pipes have outlets at discrete
locations, and they may be subject to continuous seepage losses. The excess
over the distribution component capacity is considered a spill loss. The time
step in the distribution model varies from minutes to a day.
This water-distribution modeling approach is simpler than that of non-
steady and steady-state hydraulic models. The assumptions in SIMIS imply
that the hydraulic simulations are not accurate—unless intensive field cali-
brations are undertaken, which are costly and require highly specialized
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staff—thus the water delivery schedules are only approximations that the
user should adjust to the real situation. The water travel time (the time
needed to fill the distribution components with water at operational flow
levels) is either estimated by the user or calculated by SIMIS, based on crude
Another approach, related crop coefficients to NDVI and combined
with traditional on-ground ET0 reference stations, was used for estimating
water use of irrigated crops spatially as part of the DEMETER
(DEMonstration of Earth observation TEchnologies in Routine irrigation
advisory services) project in Europe (Belmonte et al., 2005). This informa-
tion was then delivered to irrigators through multimedia message service
features on mobile phones.

7.1. Diffusion of DSS
DSS application in irrigation management applications began in the early
1990s, and currently developed countries do better in standardization of irri-
gation DSSs with a larger use of software for irrigation districts.
The single users are often encouraged in the using of DSS by external
funding in order to avoid wastes and increase irrigation water use efficiency.
Additional services, on the other hand, can have a cost for the users, because
they receive useful information about soil analysis, weather data, and fore-
casting in the next 5–8 days, about water availability.
In general, true and precise information about the number of DSS users is
not easy to obtain, because the DSS holders are recalcitrant to circulate the
information or are inclined to overestimate them.
In Denmark, for example, Thysen reported in a presentation of 2008
that after 8 years, PLANTEINFO was applied by about 5–10% of potential
users, and the reason of this result is mainly the large number of data the
users need to input. His conclusion is that simple strategies are not enough
for efficient protection of the environment from agriculture, but complex
strategies are not feasible for direct implementation by farmers. Conse-
quently, it is necessary to achieve a good compromise between simplicity
in the use and scientific complexity in the DSS structure. Information and
communication technology (ICT) and automation will be needed to reach
this goal.
In Australia, Inman-Bamber and Attard (2005) reported the use of DSS
in irrigation (6 tools at the farm level and 11 tools at the padding level) in
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Decision Support Systems to Manage Irrigation 271

which the main obstacle to DSS use is the yet too high number of parameters
to input. Web automation linking regional and national database to feed
automatically DSS seems necessary.

7.2. Limitation to large DSS use

Adoption of DSS by farmers has been discussed extensively during the last
decade. Developers of DSS do not always understand why their system is not
used. As a follow-up of the development of WISE DSS, Leib et al. (2001)
investigated the adoption and adaptation of scientific irrigation scheduling in
Washington. One conclusion is that growers of high-value crops are more
likely to use DSS in order to ensure the quality of their crops.
Olivier and Singels (2004) studied the reasons for not adopting scientific
irrigation-scheduling techniques by South African irrigators and identified
two main barriers to adoption. The first was the complexity of use and there-
fore the difficulty of applying them to farm practice and the second was
whether their use would actually transform into benefits.
A work on barriers to DSS adoption (Carberry, 2001; McCown et al.,
2006) notes a “gap” between scientific and industry approaches to schedul-
ing that supports the South Africa experience. Analyzing a standard
irrigation-scheduling tool such as “WaterSense” (Inman-Bamber et al.,
2005) comes out that it requires Internet access, the entry of many data,
and a long wait time (40 min) for results to be generated. WaterTrack Rapid
(Watertrack, 2006), another Australian DSS, designed to minimize user
effort through limiting data reporting, still requires Internet access, enter
in data, and then run the system for a response. Farmers who use some form
of decision support use it in conjunction with other data sources (soil mois-
ture probes observations, weather observations, and experience to help them
irrigate), but these data cannot be implemented in DSS.
SMS and MMS technology is widely used in many contexts to simply
and quickly deliver and gather text and images with mobile phones. For
irrigation, SMS has been used to promote the understanding of how a flex-
ible, water budget-based, irrigation schedule can save water and increase
productivity over a fixed schedule (Singels and Smith, 2006). In this, South
African trial messages were sent weekly to five farmers telling them to
“stop,” “start,” “continue,” or “do not” irrigate. The study concluded that
by communicating the model outputs to farmers in the simple SMS form,
WUE was increased by 48%. The authors found that weekly communica-
tion was required to assure the participating irrigators that the system was
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272 Michele Rinaldi and Zhenli He

still functioning and they concluded that it could be useful to obtain mea-
sured irrigation volumes from the participating farmers to improve model
accuracy (Singels and Smith, 2006).
In addition to its ease of use, the low deployment cost of SMS and its
ubiquity of use by many people, even the poorest, in both the developed
and developing world means it is a technology that may be more easily mod-
ified for use in the developing world than smartphone or Pc-based
Irrigation-scheduling DSSs have experienced poor uptake among irriga-
tors in Australia despite much investment and well-publicized objective evi-
dence that they can increase WUE (Car et al., 2012). Two major aspects
have been identified: the first was the complexity of use and hence the dif-
ficulty of applying them to farm practice and the second was whether their
use would actually translate into benefits.
At present, the main limitation seems to be an inadequate representation
of the farmers’ (stakeholders) decision and the production process. Farmers’
decisions and their policy implication seem well represented and analyzed by
economic models (Bazzani, 2005).
Other difficulties in the DSS diffusion at district scale are represented
by soil and climate variability. An important support can come from RS,
with new sensors in both the microwave and visible-length and
submetric resolution: they can retrieve information on land use, soil albedo,
and roughness, and moisture of upper layers and crop leaf are index.
Proximal sensors (georadar) can further help with information on soil
MMS and mobile Internet connection have been used in district scale to
inform in real-time farmers of which field needs to be irrigated in several
pilot projects (Spain, the United States, and Italy) or as improvement of
existing DSS.
Other aspects often not taken properly into account are the calibration
and parameterization of DSS, as a function of crops, genotypes, soils, and
irrigation methods. A preliminary phase of DSS testing is necessary to have
a robust tool that can operate with good accuracy.

The development of information technology has had a considerable
influence on the agriculture of highly industrialized nations. There have
emerged a number of new industry-specific technologies and applications
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Decision Support Systems to Manage Irrigation 273

over the past few years, including the ever-widening agricultural application
of mobile communication devices and technologies. Further considerable
improvement is expected in the use of tablets and smartphones.
A wireless sensor-based site-specific irrigation system requires a seamless
integration of in-field wireless sensor network and closed-loop control of
sprinkler nozzles and must be easily used and simply managed by end users
(growers) via user-friendly softwares. A real-time wireless in-field sensing
and control software was developed to integrate a site-specific irrigation
controller with in-field data feedback and support the decision-making
and real-time monitoring of irrigation operations via Bluetooth wireless
radio communication (Kim and Evans, 2009).
Another vision for future DSS development is what we might consider
the “open-source” concept, which is based upon free redistribution and
integrity of the source code. In an open-source environment, DSS compo-
nents, such as models, are built by a community of developers and made
available freely over the Web (Magarey et al., 2002).
The new technologies allow one to remotely control the irrigation
of limited areas (gardens or greenhouses) by means of camera and
smartphone. Some applications are available to support this possibility, like
IrrigationCaddy Mobile 1 ( It allows a
programming of start–end time of irrigation, the remote control of irrigated
sectors, and the water amount supplied.
In conclusion, a brief view of the DSS structure, examples of DSS
applied in environmental science and specifically in irrigation scheduling,
and their diffusion and limitation to their large use are reported in this chapter.
Future perspectives of DSS evolution will be in the ICT (moisture sen-
sors, wireless network, and RS images) and participating approach integra-
tion. The research gap will be more about the compromise between
simplicity of use and results reliability.

This contribution was made during the visiting scientist period (4 months) of Dott. Michele
Rinaldi in Soil and Water Laboratory at UF-IFAS-IRREC, Fort Pierce, Florida (USA). This
period was awarded by the “Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura
(CRA, Agricultural Research Council, Italy)”, training program 2012.

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