Irrigation of crops in the Mid-South has grown by leaps and bounds over the last two decades, but an ongoing challenge for farmers has been to improve the accuracy and timeliness of water applications.

A research project under way in Mississippi may hold a solution.

With the online scheduling tool being developed, a producer could log onto a Web site, plug in information such as field boundaries from aerial photos, crop planting date, soil moisture present in the field, etc. The program would then update the weather information to add current and predictive weather data and suggest the best time to apply irrigation (or if rain is predicted, the producer could elect to hold off on the application).

After an irrigation application, or if rainfall occurred, that information would be added in order to determine timing of the next irrigation.

The tool will work for all types of irrigation delivery systems — sprinkler, flood, and furrow — and flow rates.

“For nearly two years, we’ve been working to develop the online irrigation scheduling tool,” says Amy Schmidt, assistant Extension professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Mississippi State University.

She is part of a team that includes Gretchen F. Sassenrath, plant physiologist, and Daniel K. Fisher, agricultural engineer, both with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service Crop Production Systems Research Unit at Stoneville, Miss.; Lyle Pringle, associate agricultural engineer at the Delta Research and Extension Center, Stoneville; and Scott Samson, Extension professor in the Geosystems Resources Institute at Mississippi State University, who is managing the computer coding and web site development.

“Our goal is a reliable, easy to use irrigation scheduling tool that integrates crop monitoring, current weather, and weather predictions to improve the timing and application of irrigation in the humid, high rainfall environment of Mississippi,” Schmidt says. By making the scheduling tool Web-based, producers will be able to access the tool from mobile devices, including phones.