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Soil Testing – Measurement of Soil Moisture

Written by Janice M on . Posted in Agriculture & Soil

Management of water in agriculture is becoming more sophisticated. Colin Chartres, the Director General of the International Water Management Institute, says that water use in agriculture can be reduced. He told SciDev.Net: “Often there is a combination of factors causing poor crop yields. It may be lack of fertilisers, poor husbandry or agronomy, too much water or too little at the wrong time. There is great potential to improve the way we manage water and manage our crops, to pick up gains we know are quite possible.”


How to Measure the Soil Moisture Level:

This can be measured in two different ways – using a Volumetric or a Gravimetric measurement method. Both methods provide highly accurate results that previously were only available by baking the soil and noting the changed mass.
  • Gravimetric Soil Moisture – soil quality is the water content % of soil expressed by mass (weight).
  • Volumetric Soil Moisture – water content % of soil expressed by volume.
A Soil Moisture Refractometer provides a faster and simpler way to determine soil moisture levels. It calculates the water content of soil by measuring a decline in the refractive index of glycerine after it is mixed with water at the 5:3 ratio. It employs the water absorbing properties of glycerine.

Measurement Method:

  1. For Gravimetric Measurement: measure out an equal amount each of soil and glycerine.For Volumetric Measurement: measure out 50 ml of soil, using a sand-pouring cylinder or soil sampler. Measure out 30 ml of glycerine and place it in a re-sealable plastic bag.
  2. Mix the soil and glycerine thoroughly.
  3. Place filter paper on the prism and place the soil-glycerine mixture on top.
  4. Press the Start key.
  5. Measurement value is displayed in 3 seconds.
This measurement method is in accordance with ISO 16586:2003. It is extremely useful for irrigation and drainage planning. The PAL Soil Moisture Meter can provide highly accurate moisture level readings.    

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