Natural Resources, School of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Agricultural Water Management 284 (2023) 108368.


Open access.


The soil water content at the condition of field capacity (θFC) is a key parameter in irrigation scheduling and has been suggested to be determined by running a synthetic drainage experiment until the flux rate (q) at the bottom of the soil profile achieves a predefined negligible value (qFC). We question the impact of qFC on the assessment of field capacity. Moreover, calculating θFC as the integral mean of the water content profile when q is equal to qFC is strictly valid only for uniform soil profiles. By contrast, this practice is ambiguous and biased for stratified soil profiles due to the soil water content discontinuity at the layer interfaces. In this study, the concept of field capacity was revisited and adapted to practical agronomic heuristics. By resorting to the assessment of root-zone water storage capacity (W), we envision field capacity as a functional hydraulic parameter derived from synthetic irrigation scheduling scenarios to minimize drought stress, drainage, and nitrate leachate below the root zone. A functional analysis was carried out on a 135-cm-thick layered soil profile beneath maize in eastern Nebraska. Onfarm irrigation scheduling applications and agricultural practices were recorded for 20 years (2001–2020) at a daily time step. Hydrus-1D was calibrated and validated with direct measurements of the soil water retention curve and soil water content data, respectively, in each soil layer. A set of functional field capacity values was derived from 24 irrigation scheduling scenarios, and the optimal water storage capacity at field capacity (WFC) was approximately 50 cm (corresponding to about 80% saturation in the soil profile). An average irrigation amount of 217.5 mm distributed over 21 events was obtained by using optimal irrigation scheduling, which was initiated when the matric pressure head took on a value of - 700 cm and the irrigation rate was set at 1.0 cm d-1. This irrigation practice ensured water storage at approximately the same level (ideally at WFC) by sustaining only evapotranspiration fluxes in the uppermost portion of the root zone and by limiting excessive drainage. This protocol can be transferred to other agricultural fields.