Sugarcane water use from shallow water tables: implications for improving irrigation water use efficiency

Caecelia A. Hurst, Peter J. Thorburn, David Lockington, Keith Bristow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

27 Citations (Scopus)


The resource potential of shallow water tables for cropping systems has been investigated using the Australian sugar industry as a case study. Literature concerning shallow water table contributions to sugarcane crops has been summarised, and an assessment of required irrigation for water tables to depths of 2 m investigated using the SWIMv2.1 soil water balance model for three different soils. The study was undertaken because water availability is a major limitation for sugarcane and other crop production systems in Australia and knowledge on how best to incorporate upflow from water tables in irrigation scheduling is limited. Our results showed that for the three soils studied (representing a range of permeabilities as defined by near-saturated hydraulic conductivities), no irrigation would be required for static water tables within 1 m of the soil surface. Irrigation requirements when static water tables exceeded 1 m depth were dependent on the soil type and rooting characteristics (root depth and density). Our results also show that the near-saturated hydraulic conductivities are a better indicator of the ability of water tables below 1 m to supply sufficient upflow as opposed to soil textural classifications. We conclude that there is potential for reductions in irrigation and hence improvements in irrigation water use efficiency in areas where shallow water tables are a low salinity risk: either fresh, or the local hydrology results in net recharge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalAgricultural Water Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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