KTIC Radio Extension Corner: Benefits of Using Soil Sensors to Manage Irrigation

What is the value of using water sensors to manage irrigation? Listen to this weeks extension corner to learn more.

Listen to this week’s KTIC Radio Extension Corner:


This is Aaron Nygren, your local agronomist with Nebraska Extension in Colfax, Cuming, and Stanton counties. This week let’s talk about the benefits of using soil water sensors for managing irrigation. Potential benefits include lower irrigation costs, reduced chances of overwatering, and less nutrient leaching.

One of the main benefits of using sensors to better manage irrigation is the reduced costs of pumping. When surveyed, users of sensors from the Nebraska Ag Water Management Network as well as industry have typically indicated water savings of 2 inches per acre.

The cost of applying an additional 2 inches of water is going to vary depending on your depth to water, system pressure, and equipment costs, but could easily run from 10 to 30 dollars per acre. To determine the actual cost, we would recommend the use of the IrrigateCost app. The app, which is available for both Apple and Android products, allows users to input their specific information such as acres irrigated, pumping lift, system PSI, pump and pivot life, and inches applied as well as related costs such as for the well and engine, labor, energy, district fees, and taxes. The app then calculates total irrigation cost as well as total ownership and total operating costs.  It also breaks down costs by irrigation well, pump, gear head, pump base, diesel engine and tank and system and calculates per acre annual cost and per acre-inch annual cost.

In addition to reducing pumping costs, when properly used to manage irrigation, sensors may also improve crop growth and yield by helping to avoid the detrimental effects of over watering on soil conditions and nutrient leaching.

To illustrate the potential savings from using sensors, let’s use an example irrigation system irrigating 130 acres with a pumping lift of 150 feet and a system pressure of 45 psi and diesel fuel at $2.00 per gallon.  By plugging these numbers into IrrigateCost, we can get an idea of the potential economic value of using sensors.

If the use of sensors results in savings of 2 inches of water, the difference in cost between the two scenarios is $14.61 per acre.  With 130 acres irrigated the total annual savings from using sensors would equal $1,900. From this total we would have to subtract the cost of the sensors. A typical range for sensor prices is as low as $175 for systems with NRD cost share up to $1,500 per year for subscription based services. Therefore, the net savings from using sensors for a 130 acre center pivot could range from $400 to $1,700 per year.

Example costs for 8″ of irrigation

Example costs for 6″ of irrigation when using sensors

To listen to this radio message again or to get more information, visit our local website at croptechcafe.org or give me a call at 352-3821. This is Aaron Nygren, your local agronomist for Nebraska Extension on KTIC radio.

KTIC Radio Extension Corner: Benefits of Using Soil Sensors to Manage Irrigation
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