Info Sheets

Water Budgets

Just like a finanical cash book, a water budget calculates the amount of water you have at any one time by keeping a running total of water coming in for your crop less the amount leaving.

There are a number of resources available to help you to implement a water budget so this is just a quick overview of the concepts.

The Plant Available Water (PAW) = PAW (last calculated) + (Inputs) - (Outputs)

Inputs are:

  • Rainfall - measured using a rain gauge
  • Irrigation - input from your irrigation system
  • Infiltration into the root zone  - generally ignored as difficult to measure and considered minimal

Outputs are:

  • Surface runoff - calculated if PAW > Field Capacity
  • Evapotranspiration - estimated from weather station measurements
  • Drainage below the root zone - generally ignored as difficult to measure and considered minimal during irrigation conditions (unless you are over watering)

Everything is calculated in mm.

You need to irrigate if your PAW is below a value (mm) that you have nominated as your trigger point. This amount may also be referred to as the Soil Moisture Deficit, SMD. The trigger level is often chosen to be about half way between the point at which you can visibly see plants suffering (Wilting Point) and Field Capacity.

Good irrigation management keeps soil moisture between Field Capacity ,without over watering and the trigger (or refill) point, without causing plant stress.

It is easiest to start a water budget when your soil is at Field Capacity. The amount of water (mm) in the soil in these conditions will depend on your soil type and the rooting depth of your crop. List of typical Available Water Capacity values.


Potential Sources  of error in a simple water budget:

Irrigation loss - for overhead irrigation in particular, a certain amount of water will be lost by evaporation before it reaches the ground. This loss should be accounted for (and minimised of course)

Surface loss - in parched soils or in highly evaporative conditions (hot, dry and windy) some of the irrigation or rainfall will evaporate before it can infiltrate the soil. In severely parched soils, runoff can also occur before infiltration.

Evapotranspiration estimates - estimates are based on standardised conditions, and non-parched soils. In reality, the rate of evapotranspiration will decrease as the soil becomes parched and plants transpire less