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Soil Moisture Monitoring Improves Irrigation Management

The Issue

Alfalfa and pasture are the most extensively grown crops in the intermountain region. Irrigation is required for maximum yield and profit but future irrigation water availability in the intermountain area is in question due to competing uses, primarily for endangered species preservation. The region's entire agricultural economy is threatened if water supplies for forage production are reduced.

Agricultural water use has come under increased scrutiny and is often singled out as a primary contributor to the decline in anadromous fish populations in recent decades. The general perception of many non-farmers is that irrigation of pasture and alfalfa is a poor use of limited water supplies. Therefore, it is in the best interest of agriculture to use limited water resources as efficiently as possible.

What Has ANR Done?

A five-year project funded by US Fish and Wildlife Service assessed current irrigation practices and evaluated the effects of early irrigation cut-off. The study showed considerable differences between ranches. Some fields were over-irrigated and many other were deficit-irrigated, indicating that there was significant potential in fine-tuning irrigation practices.

Soil moisture monitors used in the trials were found to be very useful in improving irrigation management and water conservation. A brochure by Farm Advisor Steve Orloff and UC Specialists Blaine Hanson and Dan Putnam on improving irrigation management by monitoring soil moisture has been used throughout the state and the country. A downloadable Excel spreadsheet was developed by the authors and Gail Nishimoto to graph the soil moisture readings.

The Payoff

Growers conserve water and improve irrigation management

This improved method of scheduling irrigations has been adopted by growers thoughout Siskiyou County and other areas of the state. Nearly half of the producers in Siskiyou County's Scott Valley are now using soil moisture sensors. Educational materials developed during the project are used in irrigation training programs by other agencies such as NRCS, farm advisors in other areas and by irrigation specialists in other states.


Steve Orloff
1655 S. Main St.
Yreka, CA 96097