Water use efficiency in agriculture can be improved by implementing advisory systems that support on-farm irrigation scheduling, with reliable forecasts of the actual crop water requirements, where crop evapotranspiration (ETc) is the main component. The development of such advisory systems is highly dependent upon the availability of timely updated crop canopy parameters and weather forecasts several days in advance, at low operational costs. This study presents a methodology for forecasting ETc, based on crop parameters retrieved from multispectral images, data from ground weather sensors, and air temperature forecasts. Crop multispectral images are freely provided by recent satellite missions, with high spatial and temporal resolutions. Meteorological services broadcast air temperature forecasts with lead times of several days, at no subscription costs, and with high accuracy. The performance of the proposed methodology was applied at 18 sites of the Campania region in Italy, by exploiting the data of intensive field campaigns in the years 2014-2015. ETc measurements were forecast with a median bias of 0.2 mm, and a median root mean square error (RMSE) of 0.75 mm at the first day of forecast. At the 5th day of accumulated forecast, the median bias and RMSE become 1 mm and 2.75 mm, respectively. The forecast performances were proved to be as accurate and as precise as those provided with a complete set of forecasted weather variables.
Keywords: Hargreaves–Samani equation; Penman–Monteith equation; crop evapotranspiration; irrigation advisory systems; numerical weather forecasts; remote sensing.