Soil Moisture and Temperature Monitoring in Different Field Management Conditions

Progress report for ONC21-087

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2021: $39,993.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2023
Grant Recipient: The Ohio State University
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Amanda Douridas
The Ohio State University
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Project Information


Future success of cover crop adoption will depend on demonstrating the economic value and agronomic feasibility to farmers. One of the biggest concerns farmers face when adopting cover crops is a fear of fields not drying out as quickly in the spring for planting. This has been exacerbated by recent weather patterns in Ohio resulting in exceptionally wet spring weather. In fact, in Ohio farmers are experiencing ten fewer days available for field work in April and May since 1995. The potential risk of delayed planting deters farmers from trying to add cover crops into their management practices. 

 To investigate this concern, we will place soil moisture and temperature sensors in fields with different management practices to measure differences in how the soil dries and warms in the spring. Soil tests to understand soil health benefits will also be conducted. In-field comparisons in random block design will be done where feasible and neighboring field comparisons will be used when not.  

 To maximize the impact of the research, an educational program will be developed to communicate the results of this study and, in addition, help farmers understand the benefits of cover crops and the options for adding them into their operation. 

Project Objectives:
  • Quantify the differences in spring soil moisture and temperature between fields under conventional tillage, no-till, and cover crop management using soil sensors. 
  • Develop educational resources about the implications of various field management techniques for farmers including YouTube video series, factsheets, and Extension curriculum. 


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Elizabeth Hawkins (Educator and Researcher)
  • Amanda Douridas (Educator and Researcher)


Materials and methods:

The objective was to quantify the differences in spring soil moisture and temperature between fields under conventional tillage, no-till, and cover crop management using soil sensors. In 2022, TEROS 11 sensors were installed in fields in the fall after field work was completed. 2 sensors were paired with 1 ZL6 data logger to measure soil moisture and temperature. For each data logger, one sensor was placed 3 inches below the soil surface and one sensor was place 6 inches below the soil surface. Treatments measured were: 1.) no-till with cover crops, 2.) no-till without a cover crop, 3.) tillage. Within the no-till with a cover crop, the goal was to have 2 treatments terminated prior to planting and 2 terminated after. Sensors were placed in neighboring fields. There were 3 paired sites with each treatment: 1 in Champaign County, 1 in Fayette County and 1 in Madison County. Sensors were placed in the same soil types in different fields with 2 sensors per treatment. 

During the 2022 growing season, unfortunately at 2 sites all cover crops were terminated prior to planting leaving only 1 site with a pre plant and post plant termination comparison. 

Sensors were removed at plant and then re-installed during the growing season to continue to monitor soil moisture and temperature. 

Sensors were reinstalled for the 2023 growing season in early January.

Research results and discussion:

In 2022, no measurable difference was seen between the two plots when the cover crop was killed prior to planting. When comparing cover to tilled and no-till, no difference was seen in temperature through planting. After planting, tilled ground ran 2-4 degrees F higher through the rest of the season. Soil moisture at 3 inches varied between the 3 treatments with no-till only peaking as the wettest in March and covered ground surpassing it in April and retaining a higher soil moisture through the end of the season.

graph with 3 lines of red gray and black showing the soil moisture at 3 inches deep.


Graph with 3 lines of red, gray and black showing the soil temperature at 3 inches deep.

Participation Summary
6 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

100 Consultations

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

The 2022 results were published in the 2022 eFields On-Farm Research Report distributed across the state of Ohio and available online at:

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.