Globally, the irrigation of crops is the largest consumptive user of fresh water. Water scarcity is increasing worldwide, resulting in tighter regulation of its use for agriculture. This necessitates the development of irrigation practices that are more efficient in the use of water but do not compromise crop quality and yield. Precision irrigation already achieves this goal, in part. The goal of precision irrigation is to accurately supply the crop water need in a timely manner and as spatially uniformly as possible. However, to maximize the benefits of precision irrigation, additional technologies need to be enabled and incorporated into agriculture. This paper discusses how incorporating adaptive decision support systems into precision irrigation management will enable significant advances in increasing the efficiency of current irrigation approaches. From the literature review, it is found that precision irrigation can be applied in achieving the environmental goals related to sustainability. The demonstrated economic benefits of precision irrigation in field-scale crop production is however minimal. It is argued that a proper combination of soil, plant and weather sensors providing real-time data to an adaptive decision support system provides an innovative platform for improving sustainability in irrigated agriculture. The review also shows that adaptive decision support systems based on model predictive control are able to adequately account for the time-varying nature of the soil–plant–atmosphere system while considering operational limitations and agronomic objectives in arriving at optimal irrigation decisions. It is concluded that significant improvements in crop yield and water savings can be achieved by incorporating model predictive control into precision irrigation decision support tools. Further improvements in water savings can also be realized by including deficit irrigation as part of the overall irrigation management strategy. Nevertheless, future research is needed for identifying crop response to regulated water deficits, developing improved soil moisture and plant sensors, and developing self-learning crop simulation frameworks that can be applied to evaluate adaptive decision support strategies related to irrigation.
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