Temporal and spatial variations of irrigation water use for commercial corn fields in Central Nebraska

Ivo Zution Gonçalves, Mesfin M. Mekonnen, Christopher M.U. Neale, Isidro Campos, Michael R. Neale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The increasing pressure on water resources in Nebraska-US and other agricultural areas requires the implementation of innovative tools and solutions for the governance of water resources and the analysis of water use efficiency. In this vein, this paper presents the application of a remote sensing based soil water balance for the study of water use in agricultural areas. The specific objectives were the identification of the temporal and spatial behavior of the irrigation water use based on the quantification of the water use deviation (irrigation water applied minus irrigation water requirements), as the main indicator and the comparative analysis of the irrigation productivity (crop yield under irrigated field minus crop yield under rainfed condition per volume of water applied by irrigation), WPi, water productivity (harvestable grain per total volume of water applied considering precipitation plus irrigation), WP, and finally water productivity based on evapotranspiration (harvested grain per total volume of water evapotranspired), WPET, in the various management zones analyzed. Additionally, we examined the impact of soil types, local weather and irrigation system (center pivot and furrow irrigation) on these indicators. The study was carried out in three Natural Resources District (Tri-Basin, Central Platte and Lower Niobrara) across Central Nebraska for the period 2004–2012 and comprised over 2000 irrigated corn fields per year. Crop water requirements were estimated using the reflectance-based crop coefficient approach developed in previous research (see Campos et al., 2017) and the field data were reported for each field monitored through cropland data layer by National Agricultural Statistics Service of USDA. The difference between modeled irrigation water requirements and field level irrigation application was significant (p < 0.001) being the water use deviation in generally positive (over irrigation). These results were consistently higher for furrow irrigated fields during the whole analyzed period, reaching up to three times more water applied compared to the required amount. This was expected as surface irrigation systems typically require a higher application depth. This trend changed for the central pivot irrigated fields depending on the climatic conditions, especially in dry years. The analysis of the water use deviation with respect to soil types and weather conditions revealed that the water use deviation is not justified by the biophysical conditions alone. The estimated values of WP and WPi for furrow system was lower compared to center pivot in both NRD's reaching the maximum value of 1.37 kg m-3 and 3.06 kg m-3 for WP and WPi in Tri-basin respectively for center pivot. In general, the results suggested potential to improve water management in these NRDs in Central Nebraska and reduce pumping potentially saving groundwater resources for drought years and other uses monitoring soil type, weather data and switching to sprinklers system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105924
JournalAgricultural Water Management
StatePublished - Feb 20 2020


  • Basal crop coefficient
  • Satellite imagery
  • Water productivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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