Combating the looming water crisis with smart technology
Once they developed the technology to vary irrigation, the team wanted to figure out how to divide agricultural fields into management zones. What initially felt like a straightforward task, however, proved more complicated.
“The picture is more dynamic than we anticipated,” says Vellidis. “In terms of topography, fields are uneven. So, in rainy years, the lower parts of the landscape are very wet while others are drier. In dry years, the lower parts are often the driest.”
To gain a better understanding of the land, he and his team developed online tools to analyze big data sets and identify patterns for irrigating at different rates.
They’re also developing soil moisture sensing systems that are installed in the soil at different depths to help determine how much water to apply in each zone. Local farmers have been testing an early prototype: The sensors collect information and send it to a cloud-based server, which converts the data points into irrigation recommendations. Farmers can view how much water each zone needs on their smartphone and download the data to the center pivot controller. With this system, the team has already demonstrated on-farm irrigation water use efficiency improvements of 30 to 40 percent.