U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version


Document Type



Agricultural Research Magazine 60(5): May-June 2012 pp. 8-9; ISSN 0002-161X


Pacific Northwest potato and sugar beet farmers who irrigate their crops with sprinklers need to know a lot more than when to turn on the faucet. The region’s powdery silt loam soils don’t contain much stabilizing organic matter, and existing soil aggregates that facilitate water infiltration can be broken up during irrigation. Afterwards, the loose particles of sand, silt, and clay that remain can dry to form a solid crust that greatly limits infiltration into the soil.

This means that growers not only need to calculate how much water should be supplied during irrigation, but they also need to ensure that the kinetic energy transferred from each water droplet to the soil surface during irrigation doesn’t contribute to the breakup of the fragile soil aggregates. They also need to develop irrigation protocols that won’t saturate soils or erode valuable topsoil.