Water availability to soybean crop as a function of the least limiting water range and evapotranspiration1

<div><p>ABSTRACT Irrigation management aimed at optimal production has been based only on the water factor. However, in addition to the water potential of the soil, factors such as soil penetration resistance and soil O2 diffusion rate also affect plant growth and interfere with water absorption, even if moisture is within the available water range. This study aimed at quantifying the least limiting water range and demonstrating its potential in soil and water management in irrigated agriculture. In order to determine the least limiting water range, soil water retention curves and soil resistance to penetration were determined from undisturbed soil samples. The sequential water balance and the reference, crop and real evapotranspiration were determined for a soybean crop season. Soil aeration was the least limiting water range upper limit for soils with bulk density greater than 1.33 Mg m-3, whereas soil resistance to penetration was the lower limit for bulk density higher than 1.43 Mg m-3. The bulk density of the soil studied was 1.35 Mg m-3, indicating 0.37 m3 m-3 of water availability, based on the least limiting water range, which is sufficient to supply the crop evapotranspiration. Irrigation management based on the least limiting water range is more efficient and complete than that based only on available water.</p></div>