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Taking cotton's temp boosts yields

How do you take the temperature of a cotton plant? Asking it to “open up and say ahhhh” won't work.

Which brings up another question: Why would you even want to take cotton plants' temperatures in the first place?

Researchers in Texas know that crop temperature has a direct effect on its yield potential. For example, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) crop scientists theorized a decade ago that each crop has its own optimal temperature for maximum performance. For cotton, that range is 73°F. to 90°F.

The researchers went on to experiment using irrigation as a means to cool crops (via evapotranspiration) and confirmed that, indeed, temperature-guided water applications can boost soybean, corn, and cotton yields. For cotton, the time-temperature threshold method involves turning on irrigation when leaf temperature exceeds, for example, 82°F. for more than 4½ hours.

So back to the original question: How do you take the temperature of a crop like cotton and do it constantly throughout the day to precisely time irrigation when it's most needed to cool the crop?

Innovative engineering

Steven Evett and Susan O'Shaughnessy employed some innovative engineering to rig a center pivot with wireless infrared thermometers.

Evett is a soil scientist with the ARS and has been involved with pioneering the effects of temperature and yield. O'Shaughnessy is an agricultural engineer. Both work at the ARS's Soil and Water Management Research Unit at Bushland, Texas.

Their innovation comes from work by Evett and his colleagues to create a control system that uses feedback from the crop, in terms of leaf temperatures, to control irrigation and crop water-use efficiency.

O'Shaughnessy developed a means of mounting the wireless infrared thermometers on a pivot's arms and positioning them in the field.

She is adding sensors that can help determine whether to skip watering parts of a field because plants are suffering from disease rather than drought or because no plants have survived in that part of the field.

Ultimately, she and Evett will seek a cooperative research and development agreement with a manufacturer to build the sensors and control system into their equipment. 

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Steven Evett

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