Managing spatial irrigation using remote-sensing-based evapotranspiration and soil water adaptive control model

Mitchell S. Maguire, Christopher M.U. Neale, Wayne E. Woldt, Derek M. Heeren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Irrigation has traditionally been managed as uniform applications where an entire field receives the same depth of water. Motivation to improve current irrigation practices has led to different approaches utilizing remotely-sensed images to inform variable rate irrigation management. This study conducted in 2019 and 2020 implemented the Spatial EvapoTranspiration Modeling Interface (SETMI), a remote-sensing-based evapotranspiration (ET) and water balance model, for managing variable rate irrigation of a maize and soybean field. This model tracked soil water content through the estimation of daily ET and tracking of various water fluxes entering and leaving a field. SETMI was used in two different irrigation treatments informed using Planet satellite (SETMI-SAT) and unmanned aerial system (UAS, SETMI-UAS) remotely-sensed images. A uniform irrigation approach managed by a professional crop consultant and a non-irrigated approach were used as the baseline in comparing irrigation management approaches. The irrigation treatments were evaluated on dry grain yield, gross irrigation, actual ET, deep percolation, change in soil water content, and water productivity. The uniform irrigation approach managed by the crop consultant applied the highest irrigation in 2019 and 2020 for maize (2019: 155 mm, 2020: 213 mm) and soybean (2019: 124 mm; 2020: 183 mm) while the SETMI irrigation treatments applied less irrigation for maize (2019: 131, 132 mm; 2020: 154, 140 mm) and soybean (2019: 116, 94 mm; 2020: 154, 175 mm). Maize yield was highest for the uniform irrigation approach in 2019 (14.9 Mg ha−1) and 2020 (13.3 Mg ha−1). The highest soybean yield was produced by the SETMI-SAT irrigation management approach in 2019 (5.0 Mg ha−1) and 2020 (4.8 Mg ha−1). Significant differences (p-value < 0.05) in applied irrigation between the uniform and SETMI irrigation management approaches were observed while there were no significant differences in dry grain yield for both maize and soybean in 2019 and 2020. At least one of the SETMI irrigation treatments produced higher crop, irrigation, and ET water productivity values in comparison to those produced by the uniform irrigation treatment for all crop-years. A post-season analysis was completed using the SETMI-UAS and SETMI-SAT treatments to evaluate the accuracy of estimated rootzone soil water depletion provided by SETMI. Rootzone depletion calculated from neutron probe volumetric soil water content measurements were compared to the modeled depletion from the SETMI-UAS and SETMI-SAT treatments. The 2020 modeled and measured depletion comparison produced better agreement resulting in a root mean squared error (RMSE) < 17 mm compared to 2019 (RMSE < 27 mm). The VRI center pivot malfunctioned during the 2019 season which caused unresolved discrepancies between actually applied irrigation and what the system was programmed to apply. The VRI system was fixed before the 2020 season.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107838
JournalAgricultural Water Management
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022


  • Energy balance
  • Evapotranspiration
  • Remote sensing
  • Unmanned aerial system
  • Variable rate irrigation
  • Water balance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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