The potential for data-based irrigation management adoption to improve the sustainability of water and nitrogen resources

Only a small percentage of growers practice data-based irrigation management despite the fact that it has been shown to improve crop yields and quality while reducing water use by 15-30%. Optimizing soil moisture through improved irrigation management can also significantly reduce nitrate leaching which contaminates groundwater, reduces soil productivity, and increases the need for artificial nitrogen applications. Reducing nitrate leaching is important for all types of agriculture but is particularly so for organic production. One of the benefits from a sustainability perspective of organic agriculture is the reduction in groundwater degradation from nitrates. Also, being limited to organic sources for enhancing soil nitrogen makes it imperative for organic producers to maintain soil nitrogen levels. It is believed that more growers have not adopted this approach because they do not perceive that the financial returns, from reduced costs and increased revenues, exceed the cost of the extra time and attention that it requires. However, there is little economic research that justifies this perception. In fact, previous research has shown that there are potentially significant gains to improved management. We propose integrating crop yield water response functions that model the relationship between evapotranspirated and applied water into a dynamic economic optimization model. This modeling framework will be used to consider the impact of optimizing irrigation management on biophysical (water use, nitrate leaching, nitrogen applications) and economic outcomes (input costs, yield, crop quality). Our goal is to improve farm level profitability in irrigated regions for both organic and traditional production by lowering informational costs about data-based irrigation management.

Grant Information

  • Project ID: 101
  • Project Status: Complete




The central output of this project is an extension report currently under review as a WSU Extension Fact
Sheet. This became a sizeable report (15 pages single spaced) integrating the (1) empirical analysis of
efficient irrigation system adoption and (2) the set of decision tools for evaluating the financial
implications of improving irrigation efficiency.