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Farmers to save water using soil sensors

US: In a bid to save water, scientists from the University of Georgia (UGA), US, developed soil sensors which allow farmers to monitor soil moisture in real time. These soil sensors continuously relay soil conditions from 20, 40 and 60 centimetres deep to a computer. Combined with more accurate weather forecasts, the data will help farmers decide where and when to use their irrigation systems.

The data from the sensor will be transmitted to the farmers’ home computers, where IBM’s Cognos software will filter the data to find the relevant bits and determine where and when to water. “By managing every drop of water within the Flint River Basin, you’re better meeting the needs of people and the environment,” said Mark Werbeck, the IBM account executive for the project.

The project will spend USD 1.1 million on probes and software for 10 fields to test their efficacy over the next two years—one of the first applications of sensor technology and data management to agriculture. In the future sensors to measure nutrients or soil acidity could also be added to the probes, and Cognos software could integrate GPS data from tractors and fuel usage, along with the type and amount of seed applied. Regardless, the water data alone should cut down on farmer costs: even without the soil probes, the partnership’s variable-rate irrigation and other technologies can already save as much as 57 billion litres of water per year. “Dumping water on the crop is the most expensive thing we do,” said farmer Marty Tabb. “Water isn’t free, given the price of electricity, oil and the equipment itself.”

The new technology won’t just help farmers in the 265,000-hectare Lower Flint River Basin, it will also help all those who rely on the water from the Floridian Aquifer—from the human residents of Savannah and Orlando to the alligator snapping turtle that inhabits the region’s slow-moving rivers, lakes and bayous. In addition to saving water (agriculture is responsible for 70 percent of human water use globally), the technology can also help produce more crop per drop.

Source: Scientific American