Irrigated agriculture is the primary consumer of limited worldwide freshwater resources. Drought, growing world populations, and environmental demands compete with irrigation for freshwater resources"”threatening sustainable global food, fuel, and fiber production. This escalating global crisis demands that agriculture produce more food using less water. Traditional irrigation management has used technology to apply uniform irrigation rates across landscapes"”ignoring natural environmental variation. This provides inherent inefficiencies of over- or under- irrigation within individual fields. Variable-rate irrigation (VRI) is modern technology that employs global positioning systems and geographic information systems to match irrigation to spatially variable crop water demands within a field. Although commercially available, VRI lacks scientifically validated decision support systems to determine spatially and temporally variable crop water demand. The purpose of this research is to explore spatial and temporal variations in crop water demand to inform growers utilizing VRI. This research consists of four seasons of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) production on a commercial farm in Idaho that employs a VRI system. In Chapter 1, the spatial variation of crop water productivity (CWP, the grain produced per unit of water consumed), is characterized for two seasons (2016-2017) and we propose a unique conceptual strategy for VRI management targeted at CWP. Observed CWP ranged from 4.1-21 kg ha-1 mm-1 with distinct spatial variation that, when considered together with grain yield, were shown to be useful for VRI management. During the 2017 growing season, VRI zones conserved 25% of irrigation compared to traditional uniform irrigation management. In the second chapter the spatial variation of soil water holding capacity (SWHC) was measured at 90 sampling points throughout the field. Then, during the 2016-2017 growing seasons, the spatial and temporal variation of soil moisture were modelled to characterize crop stress and its influence on grain yield. Soil within the field showed large spatial variation of SWHC, ranging from 147-369 mm. Under uniform irrigation in 2016, the natural variation of TAW created 21 day variation in the onset of crop stress throughout the field and under VRI in 2017 the onset of crop stress spanned 56 d. Surprisingly the variations in TAW did not statistically influence yield in 2016, and in 2017 the rate of irrigation predicted yield and TAW again did not statistically predict yield. This suggests that other environmental variables should be included when delineating irrigation zones and rates for VRI.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





variable-rate irrigation, crop water productivity, soil water holding capacity, evapotranspiration, soil moisture depletion modeling