By placing sensors and other next generation technology in the soil, researchers are rethinking the modern irrigation system. The insights from these digital tools are changing how farmers from Peru and Italy use this precious resource.
Soil sensors and IoT technology helping conserve water
The Next Drop for Internet of Things
How Sensors Are Saving Water
For much of history, discerning what is happening below ground has been an arduous and time-consuming process for farmers. Exactly how much water is in the soil? Has it reached the root zone? Both questions have proven to be challenging and sometimes impossible to answer. The greenskeeper has faced a similar problem.
Consider the varied topography of a golf course. Each fairway, rough, and putting green have differing terrain and species of plants that require different levels of irrigation. Applying the same amount of water throughout the entire course would be wasteful, and likely less effective. This same logic applies to crops. Farmers benefit from knowing precisely which plants need water.
Sensor technology is changing how farmers water crops.
Embracing Intelligent Irrigation
Internet of Things (IoT) technology has arrived on the farm in the form of sophisticated soil sensors. Farmers are placing specialized moisture readers throughout their fields to measure and share moisture data. This helpful, real-time information is then sent to a central hub where it can be collected and analyzed. Ultimately this provides farmers with a map showing precisely where water levels are low, optimal, or too high.
More technology can help farmers use less water.
In the latest irrigation systems, these sensors are even helping deliver certain levels of automation. After rainfall, they can suggest revising scheduled irrigation—by either holding off, or reducing the amount of water applied to the field. This valuable data enables farmers to use only what is needed, and not a drop more.
Modern agriculture is striving to make every drop count.
Empowering Smallholder Farmers
One of the most exciting possibilities of this IoT technology, is the scale at which it can be applied. According to one analysis, prices for IoT sensor hardware have fallen over the last decade. Coupled with lowering prices for bandwidth and processing power, the core technology of these soil sensor networks could have global applications. As cost is reduced, smallholder farmers in developing nations will gain more access to this powerful technology.
A version of this innovation is already providing smallholder farmers in emerging economies with timely data. SMS alert systems have been created to notify farmers of when, and how much rain is expected in their region. Technology like this is based on the same principles as sensor technology—delivering more real-time and helpful data to farmers.
Smallholder farmers produce roughly 80% of the food consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.1
Resilience in Drought Conditions
As water evaporates from the soil and condensates in the atmosphere, necessary water for crops is lost. By having updated readings of moisture levels, farmers can know more precisely when extended drought has begun to affect their crops. This removes much of the estimation and guesswork involved in dealing with this environmental challenge. Considering extended drought is expected to be more commonplace with climate change, sensor technology will help farmers better endure this hardship.
Connecting to Conserve
When rainfall is insufficient, farmers inevitably look to streams, rivers, groundwater, and lakes for irrigation. The more pressure is placed on these ecosystems, the harder it becomes to maintain a vibrant, and biologically diverse planet. Adopting sensor technology supports farmers as they seek to optimize how modern agriculture utilizes freshwater. The more efficiently the industry uses this natural resource, the less demand is required from nearby environments.
Analyzing Every Drop
For modern agriculture, innovation is not always size and scale—it can also be small and smart. The industry is continuously focusing on efficiency—whenever waste can be reduced, and a natural resource be optimized—that’s good for the planet and the industry. Moving forward, the central focus is finding more ways to use fewer natural resources—including freshwater.
Over 70 percent of the planet is covered with water. Yet many communities around the globe face a very limited supply. Learn why this natural resource is so elusive to many.