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The Innovative Features of Smart Irrigation Systems for Efficient Water Management in Agriculture

In modern agriculture, water management is often the make-or-break factor for a successful harvest. The stakes are high. The planet is warming. Resources are dwindling. The rate of food intensification needs is growing vastly. The ability to control the water flow in fields is now top priority. We’ve developed drones to monitor field conditions, we have sensors which can detect disease, and now we have wonderous Smart Irrigation Systems. These technological marvels are not just gadgets; they are providing a saving grace for farmers, landowners, and the environment alike.

We’re going to cover a selection of ground breaking features of these smart irrigation systems that are revolutionising how we manage water in modern agriculture.

No drop is wasted

Before Smart Irrigation Systems, if a farmer was dealing with a period of drought and found his crops needed a swift hydration solution, it would be hopping in the tractor with large water tankers and spraying the field. Or, they would bring out the industrial sprinklers. The problem here was (and is for many still) is that this method is quite ineffective at targeting all of the crop. Depending on factors such as wind or direction of spray, some areas of vegetation receives far more water than others which creates inconsistencies.

We’re also experiencing a very real problem of a world-wide water crisis. Estimates that fresh water demand will outstrip supply by 40% by 2030 are front of mind for all in agriculture, as this sector uses 70% of the fresh water in use over the world.

Now, imagine a world where every drop of water used in agriculture is accounted for, meticulously measured, and delivered exactly where it's needed. This is the reality of precision irrigation. Smart irrigation systems employ advanced sensors and data analytics to ensure that water is distributed evenly and efficiently.

This is an especially important advancement for farmers in less developed countries who still rely on manual processes to keep crops hydrated, as they will have more opportunity to direct water flow and make every drop count. The problem they’ll face is the cost of this equipment but that’s another topic!

How does it work?

Soil moisture sensors are planted into the ground, and they communicate with the central irrigation control system. When the soil reaches a certain level of dryness, the system knows it's time to water. No more guesswork, no more overwatering! This means healthier plants and reduced water waste. It gives farmers the ability to monitor their fields without examining each one. With most systems they can control the flow from their phone and use the sensors to track if the soil is getting too dry. “Hmm, field 1A on the hill has 15% less water content than field 2C in the valley, I’ll turn on the system in 1A to raise the level”. Brilliant!

No more guessing the forecast

As we previously mentioned, these systems can be manually turned on to saturate the soil and roots for the plant, but they also have another trick up their sleave. These systems have a complex controller which receives information from weathers stations and other sensors to monitor humidity, temperature, wind, and precipitation. This mix allows the system to understand what is happening right now, and what is forecast. It then uses artificial intelligence to configure the irrigation to disperse the correct amount of water throughout the field.

This then plays back into the goal of making each drop count. Farmers aren’t relying on guess work and looking outside of the window to operate the system. The field may look dry on the surface layer of soil but that’s because it may be a hot day with the sun beating down, when in fact it rained most of the night before leaving the soil perfectly saturated.

Why is this important?

Because it prevents unnecessary irrigation during rain, windy conditions, or high humidity. Essentially, your irrigation system is smart enough to say, "Hey, it's going to rain tomorrow; let's skip today's watering." It's like having a personal meteorologist for your farm only you don’t need to supply them with copious amounts of tea and McVitie’s Digestives.

Remote monitoring and control

Farmers now have more flexibility which is a huge selling point for these revolutionary systems. For those who manage a farm of 450 acres, there simply isn’t enough time in the day to monitor each field, each crop, and complete all the duties they have during the day, no matter how many workers they have on the land. Smart Irrigation Systems allow farmers to make sure their entire land is monitored, cared for, watered, and the coming days weather is predicted. Their efficiency is vastly increased.

It also takes out the guess work when an issue arises with one of the systems. These Water Irrigation Systems key point is predictability, so with the system communicating with a phone, problems are quickly fixed.

How does it work?

These systems are often integrated with mobile apps or web-based platforms that give you real-time updates on soil moisture levels, weather conditions, and system performance. This allows farmers to make adjustments on the fly.

Integrated fertigation

Crops need two key elements for growth and maturation, water and nutrients. Without one or the other, the crop fails or at the very least produces unsuitable vegetation. Fertigation is the process that integrates fertilisation with irrigation. The Smart Irrigation Systems already set up the perfect infrastructure for water delivery directly to the roots, and also onto the leaves is they protrude the ground. Using this delivery pathway is a marvel for supplying the crops with the precision levels of nutrients to achieve optimum yield.

Why is this revolutionary?

Because it ensures that nutrients are delivered directly to the plant roots in the most efficient manner. This not only promotes healthier plant growth but also reduces the amount of fertiliser needed, which is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. One problem with solid fertiliser is the prediction of how much will reach the soil and thus the root. Without a Smart Irrigation System in place, a farmer could cover their field in solid fertiliser without being able to predict the weather for the next 24 hours. If rainfall strikes overnight, it could wash the fertiliser off the produce rendering it far less effective.

By delivering soluble state nutrients in a direct transport method directly to the roots, the chance of the plant absorbing the nutrients is far greater.

The future of farming

In the age of information, data is king. Smart Irrigation Systems collect a plethora of data points—from soil moisture levels to weather forecasts, to crop health metrics. But collecting data is one thing; using it effectively is another.

These systems analyse the collected data to provide actionable insights. For instance, they can identify patterns and predict future irrigation needs, helping farmers make informed decisions. This level of foresight can be invaluable, especially in regions prone to water scarcity.

The bigger picture

The benefits of smart irrigation systems extend far beyond individual farms. On a global scale, efficient water management is crucial for sustainability. Agriculture accounts for 70% the world's freshwater use. By implementing smart irrigation practices, we can drastically reduce water waste, conserve valuable resources, and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

A study of the use of Smart Irrigation Systems in the Phillippines found that coffee seedlings experienced an improved growth rate of 65.29% - 72.56% (in both plant height and number of leaves) compared to manual water feeding. They also found a water consumption reduction of 18.95% which although is not a significant saving, it still shows a marked improvement on manual watering. Every little helps when it comes to agriculture, especially in tropical climates such as the Philippines which are most effected by climate change in terms of increases in droughts.

Challenges and Considerations

Of course, no system is without its challenges. Smart Irrigation Systems can be costly to install and maintain. There's also a learning curve involved in understanding how to use these advanced systems effectively. However, the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial investment. Many farmers report that the savings in water and increased crop yields make it all worthwhile.

What to keep in mind:

If you're considering transitioning to a Smart Irrigation System, it's essential to do your research. Look for systems that offer scalability, user-friendly interfaces, and robust customer support. After all, this is a significant investment in the future of your farm.

We’re in a new era of agriculture

As we stand in a new era in agriculture, the importance of efficient water management cannot be overstated. Smart Irrigation Systems offer a beacon of hope in a world where water resources are increasingly under threat. From precision irrigation to weather-based controllers and remote monitoring, these systems are transforming the way we think about water use in agriculture.

So, the next time you see a lush, green field of produce, remember that behind that beauty could be a Smart Irrigation System working tirelessly to ensure every drop of water counts.

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