Field capacity

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Field capacity is the amount of soil moisture or water content held in the soil after excess water has drained away and the rate of downward movement has decreased. This usually takes place 2–3 days after rain or irrigation in pervious soils of uniform structure and texture. The physical definition of field capacity (expressed symbolically as θfc) is the bulk water content retained in soil at −33 kPa (or −0.33 bar) of hydraulic head or suction pressure. The term originated from Israelsen and West[1] and Frank Veihmeyer and Arthur Hendrickson.[2]

Veihmeyer and Hendrickson[3] realized the limitation in this measurement and commented that it is affected by so many factors that, precisely, it is not a constant (for a particular soil), yet it does serve as a practical measure of soil water-holding capacity. Field capacity improves on the concept of moisture equivalent by Lyman Briggs. Veihmeyer & Hendrickson proposed this concept as an attempt to improve water-use efficiency for farmers in California during 1949.[4]

Field capacity is characterized by measuring water content after wetting a soil profile, covering it (to prevent evaporation) and monitoring the change soil moisture in the profile. Water content when the rate of change is relatively small is indicative of when drainage ceases and is called Field Capacity, it is also termed drained upper limit (DUL).

Lorenzo A. Richards and Weaver[5] found that water content held by soil at a potential of −33 kPa (or −0.33 bar) correlate closely with field capacity (−10 kPa for sandy soils).


There is also criticism of this concept; field capacity is a static measurement: in a field it depends upon the initial water content and the depth of wetting before the commencement of redistribution and the rate of change in water content over time. These conditions are not unique for a given soil.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Israelsen, O.W.; West, F.L. (1922). "Water holding capacity of irrigated soils". Utah State Agricultural Experiment Station Bull. 183: 1–24.
  2. ^ Veihmeyer, F.J.; Hendrickson, A.H. (1931). "The moisture equivalent as a measure of the field capacity of soils". Soil Science. 32 (3): 181–193. Bibcode:1931SoilS..32..181V. doi:10.1097/00010694-193109000-00003. S2CID 95457706.
  3. ^ Veihmeyer, F.J.; Hendrickson, A.H. (1949). "The application of some basic concepts of soil moisture to orchard irrigation". Proc. Wash. State Hort. Assoc. 45: 25–41.
  4. ^ Novak, Viliam; Jan Havrila. "Method to estimate the critical soil water content of limited availability for plants" (PDF). Biologia, Bratislava. 61/Suppl. 19: S289—S293, 2006: 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 July 2013. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  5. ^ Richards, L.A.; Weaver, L.R. (1944). "Moisture retention by some irrigated soils as related to soil moisture tension" (PDF). Journal of Agricultural Research. 69: 215–235. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-16. Retrieved 2013-08-16.