Why do we have water stressed crops with 30 inches of rain?

Explore how soils are different in their ability to supply to water and the role the atmosphere plays in determining the water status in plants. Discover what we can do to increase the water storage in the soil profile to offset the impacts of variation in precipitation throughout the growing season.

Jerry Hatfield · October 14, 2020

How soil health determines crop available water supply.

Water is a basic need for agricultural production and without water we would have no production. Water management in agriculture will emerge as one of our greatest challenges with climate change because our agricultural production is dependent upon rainfall either directly in rain fed systems or indirectly through precipitation that is captured and then applied as irrigation water.

One of the climate signals that is evident is the increased variation in precipitation across years, within the year, and among locations. How we cope with this challenge will determine our ability to create a food secure world.

Over the course of my career, I have focused on the aspect of water use efficiency. Water use efficiency can be considered as how efficiently plants use water to create biomass, grain, or fruit; however, it has to be considered in combination with light and nutrient use efficiency. Agricultural production is limited by water availability and affects the lives of all people around the world. One of the critical aspects of how we begin to manage our water and that begins with how we manage our soils and the associated agronomic management to increase water storage and water availability to plants. Throughout the three sections of this overall course on water we will focus on the critical nature of water in plants and the factors that affect the water status in a plant.

We will explore how soils are different in their ability to supply to water and the role the atmosphere plays in determining the water status in plants. Finally, we will focus on what we can do to increase the water storage in the soil profile to offset the impacts of variation in precipitation throughout the growing season.

As we begin this series, let me share an observation with you. In the course of evaluating the impact of changes in tillage and crop management on producers yields, we discovered that corn and soybean yields were negatively related to above normal precipitation in April and May, and positively related to above normal precipitation in July and August.

Not all negative impacts of water are due to deficit conditions but excess water in the soil can be harmful to plant growth and development as deficit water conditions. We must understand that soil water management is part of a larger system in how we efficiently produce crops.

This begins with how we manage our soils as a reservoir for water to meet the crop needs and maximize the efficient use of all inputs. This is an exciting journey and one that pays dividends because efficient use of water benefits all humankind.

Jerry L. Hatfield
Retired USDA-ARS Plant Physiologist

CEUs: 2 Soil & Water Management

Course Testimonials

“I thought I understood water. A comprehensive discussion on the principles of water within plants & soil, as well as detailed procedures to implement immediately with positive benefits. I sincerely thought the approaches to water management were simpler but knowing what facets to facilitate is invaluable empowerment! Grab a notebook & some organic popcorn”

Aaron Silva

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Course Includes

  • 3 Lessons
  • 3 Quizzes

Testimonials


  • I thought I understood water
    I thought I understood water A comprehensive discussion on the principles of water within plants & soil, as well as detailed procedures to implement immediately with positive benefits. I sincerely thought the approaches to water management were simpler but knowing what facets to facilitate is invaluable empowerment! Grab a notebook & some organic popcorn 😉
    Aaron Silva