Soil Moisture Education Workshops 

Two full-day workshops focusing on soil moisture measurement, technologies, and applications supporting agricultural management and drought resilience.

Download the final report here.

Executive Summary

The technology to measure soil moisture through the soil profile at a single point in space is well established. However, there is little guidance on how to transfer knowledge, practices, and interpretation (including inference area) of soil moisture measurement to support management decisions. We implemented soil moisture workshops in Montana to explore educational approaches for effective technology transfer to the broad range of current and potential users of soil moisture information and applications. The workshops were held Wednesday, Nov 7, at the Lubrecht Experimental Forest Conference Center of the University of Montana, and Friday, Nov 9, at the Stillwater County Pavilion.

We structured the workshops to address the following questions:

  • Why measure soil moisture in Montana?
  • What are the fundamental principles of soil water storage and flow?
  • How do we measure soil moisture?
  • What is the status of soil moisture measurement and interpretation in Montana?
  • What are the potential applications of soil moisture information?
  • What do users of soil moisture information need?

We defined three primary objectives for the workshops: Present the information to be accessible to the wide audience without compromising core theory and knowledge. Use interactive, active-learning education models. Provide a forum to capture the questions, feedback, and needs of potential users. To meet these objectives the teaching team was assembled based on expertise, interest in and involvement with cooperative education, and desire to work as a team to work together to build an integrated education structure and flow.

Local and state representatives set perspectives for the workshops, emphasizing need for soil moisture information to monitor effects of adaptations to changing climate and drought response, improve success when producers seek insurance relief from weather-related losses, and to support statewide planning and budgeting. Instructors coordinated content integrated across concepts of fundamental soil physics, measurement technologies, and determination of plant available water for management applications. The state of local soil moisture measurement and interpretation was coupled with satellite measures of soil moisture to highlight current and potential statewide extrapolation (inference space). Theory and data practices were put in the context of the value of soil moisture data in forest management, evaluating water use efficiency, nutrient management, and precision agriculture.

Participants provided feedback on current use of soil moisture information, development needs, and suggested next steps in soil moisture education and monitoring in Montana. The majority of workshop participants reported that they currently used soil moisture information in their decision-making process, applied mostly to water management programs. Suggestions for monitoring improvement included easier access to data, need for more monitoring stations, and creation of relevant tools and strategies to use soil moisture information. Recommendations on next steps with soil moisture education emphasized more educational events, helping user base understand value of soil moisture data and applications, and outreach to producers and the general public.

Extended products are anticipated from these workshops which are likely to be valuable beyond Montana. Discussion is already underway to condense the workshop content into a 2–3 hour webinar, and to explore development of educational resources for extension agents. The suggestions for improvement of monitoring networks is under review by the Montana Climate Office as guidance for developing plans for network expansion and applications of soil moisture information.


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These workshops are funded by a grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, with organization and support from the Montana Climate Office, UM Lubrecht Experimental Forest, MSU Extension Service, Stillwater County, and Montana Institute on Ecosystems.