The irrigation revolution is coming

According to the United States Drought monitor, there are patches of drought stretching right across America, with severe patches in California and northern Florida. The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence classifies water scarcity to be a national threat like terrorism. 40% of freshwater use in America is allocated to farming. In an age where freshwater is becoming increasingly scarce, American farmers are turning to water conservation measures like never before. In the old days, water conservation techniques included rainwater catchment systems, tailwater return systems and improved furrow design. Today, thanks to amazing new technologies, farmers are embracing new solutions that are taking the practice of agriculture to the cutting edge of efficiency. If you’re a farmer who wants to save water, here are some technologies you should consider adopting.

Remote Sensors
Remote sensors are taking off in the world of agriculture. According to Business Insider Intelligence Estimates, there were 36 million smart devices for agriculture shipped globally in 2016. Sensor technology isn’t as expensive as it once was, and companies like Hortau, from San Luis Obispo, California, have created smart irrigation systems that measure soil tension and other environmental data with electronic sensors to determine the exact amount of water that’s needed in a field. Coupled with cloud-based software, this allows for the automation of the irrigation process. The prices of Hortau’s systems depend on the size and location of your farm and must be negotiated with the vendor. Hortau isn’t the only tech firm in the farming business. ThingWorx, a developer of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in other industries, recently turned its eye to the agricultural sector. Other vendors can be found by conducting a Google search.

One of the more innovative products on the market is the Evapotranspiration (ET) sensor from California-based company, Tule. ET is the evaporation of water from plants and soil (including surface and plant tissue evaporation). Tule sensors measure the moisture content in the air above crops and relay that data through a cellular connection to a software platform (which can be accessed from a computer or mobile device), which farmers can use to analyze and control irrigation. Whereas soil moisture sensors have a range of only a few feet, a single ET sensor from Tule can measure up to 10 acres. The sensors are priced based on two packages: Premium and Enterprise. The Premium package runs at $1,500 per sensor/per year, and the Enterprise package costs $2,500 a year. The more expensive package includes features like user training and custom analyses of seasonal performance and requires a minimum commitment of 25 sensors. The cheaper option is probably better for small to mid-sized growing operations.

Drone Mounted Cameras
Remote sensors aren’t the only remote monitoring tool at farmers’ disposal these days. Drones, equipped with multi-spectral sensors like the Parrot Sequoia ($3,500), read green, red and infrared light bands and relay the data to cloud computing platforms where crop health – including an analysis of plant behavior after irrigation and leaf canopy temperature can be determined. This kind of data gives farmers the ability to use water sparingly.

Drip Irrigation
Another cost cutting technique is drip irrigation. As opposed to traditional irrigation, in which farmers flood their fields or sluice high volumes of water down furrows, drip irrigation provides precise amounts of water to crop roots. The water is distributed by running it through porous tubing which either rests on the soil surface right above plant root systems, or is buried beneath the surface at root level. According to National Geographic’s Freshwater Initiative (2012), Drip irrigation can reduce water consumption by 70%. ATS Irrigation, from Brenham, Texas is an example of an American company that provides drip irrigation systems for residential properties or smaller farms. They sell by kits (prices available from vendor) which vary in size from 200 to 1000 feet of tubing. Farmers can buy as many kits as they need for a basic set-up.

The Future
Water conservation technologies comprise an emerging sector. There still aren’t any statistics available to demonstrate the exact water or cost savings that result from new technologies. But water is becoming more scarce and more expensive. California, for instance, has been in a state of drought for five years. In 2014, farmers in the Golden State were paying up to 10 times more for water than they were before the drought. It is clear then, that the efficient use of water is essential for the country’s future, as well as your bottom line. If you haven’t invested in water saving technologies yet, it may be time to do so.