2 Positive Ways Technology is Impacting Precision Irrigation

Richard Restuccia,
January 7, 2020

Technology is impacting precision irrigation for agriculture, and whether it is too much or too little water, there are several excellent tools to help growers manage water. Labor, water, and power cost are all increasing while the public perception of water waste increases. These are just a few of the reasons growers today should take a look at these technology tools to manage water.

Field Monitoring: Soil Moisture Monitoring Essential For Precision Irrigation

Soil moisture monitoring gives growers a window to water movement through their soil.  Growers can monitor soil moisture, soil temperature, and soil EC at intervals. This is highly accurate monitoring showing how crops use moisture through the soil profile. Additional sensors can be added to monitor rainfall, wind speed/direction, and air temperature to build a profile for perfect crop growing conditions. This information is used to predict and schedule the next irrigation based on current soil moisture trends. This information is frequently checked, and updated data is provided to growers to make better decisions concerning when and how long to water.

Long gone are the days when you decide on water based on when your neighbor irrigates. For a small investment relative to the value of your crop, growers make better-informed decisions that reduce costs and increase yields. Every year we see more growers using this technology, and the trend for field monitoring continues to grow.

Satellite Imaging

Using satellite and weather data, ETc, for any field anywhere in the world, can be computed and is one of the most essential features of precision irrigation. ETc observes the response of a plant (or set of plants or trees) in a field to the weather and their stage of growth. This information is used to determine when to irrigate a field. Accurate and timely information of ETc improves the precision of timeliness of irrigation delivered throughout the season.

Growers can use this information to develop annual water budgets to manage their water use. Water budgets are segmented by month using years of historical satellite and weather data, and growers use this information to determine how much water they are using. This is more valuable today with the Sustainable Groundwater Act in California.

Growers can also request a weekly report for each block/field and have them emailed to specific Ranch Managers (for their fields) providing a table of values of ETc for the past week – including the average ETc of the field and the ETc uniformity rank (number between 0 and 1, with 1 being perfectly uniform). Low ETc uniformity can be an indicator of irrigation, soil, pest, or other issues in the field. A thematically colored map showing the ETc uniformity is also provided for each block/field through an active hyperlink embedded in the weekly report. You can see some examples of reports here.

Technology is not going to solve all our problems, but when it comes to eliminating water waste, reducing labor, and increasing yields, technology is making a difference. Technology is a tool for precision irrigation, and it is up to growers to match the best tools for their needs. The growers able to use technology to manage water will be the most profitable growers of the future.