From Aeris Communications: Introduction to Smart Irrigation

Oct 17, 2017

Written by Trystan L. Bass from Aeris Communications

Plants need water, whether it’s a green golf course, a wiry vineyard, or waving fields of wheat. Landscape managers and farmers must irrigate their plants, but due to worldwide climate change, water has become a more limited, and often expensive, resource. This is why “smart” irrigations systems that water more efficiently are becoming more popular. According to Markets and Markets, the smart irrigation industry is projected to reach USD $1,504.6 million by 2022, at a CAGR of 17.2% between 2016 and 2022.

Smart irrigation technologies help people precisely schedule when lawns and crops need to be watered and how much water these plants require. Using IoT/M2M sensors, growers are able to monitor the soil moisture levels around their plants, as well as monitor weather conditions, so they can use water more efficiently and effectively.

Smart Irrigation on Farms

The Pacific Institute has studied smart irrigation, scheduling, and water use in California farms, specifically those using the California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS). This is a network of more than 130 automated weather systems across the state, and the CIMIS acts as a very simple type of connected data system. Each weather station has sensors that measure environmental conditions that are downloaded to a central computer four times each day. The central CIMIS system analyzes the data so the results can be accessed online by farmers. According to studies, using CIMIS increases yields by 8% and reduced water use by 13%.

Going even further and adding in-field monitoring, farmers can combine environmental data with soil probes and plant moisture sensors at their own crops. This is paired with software that interprets the measurements and provides near real-time analysis that can be accessed by the farmer from their email or cellphone. They might also receive alerts under specified conditions and be able to remotely control or automation the irrigation system.

Precise watering is important not just to save water, but it’s good for the plants. Over- or under-watering stresses a plant, leaving it unhealthy, and this reduces crop yield. Stressed and unhealthy plants are also more vulnerable to disease, weeds, and pests.

Smart Irrigation in Landscapes

While farms may be the future for smart irrigation, right now, non-agriculture use is most common for smart irrigation devices. Perhaps this is because farming industry is slower to adapt to new technology or maybe because landscape users include smaller, more nimble organizations. Sports fields and residential or commercial lawns are frequently watered by smart irrigation systems, saving water and money for the landscape managers.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created the WaterSense program to certify sprinkler controllers as 20% more efficient than standard models.  Qualifying models are usually smart irrigation controllers, which feature plant soil moisture sensors and schedule watering based on need. The EPA notes that if every home in the US had a WaterSense-labeled sprinkler controller, the country could save $435 billion in water costs and 120 billion gallons of water per year – which is enough to supply the water needs of 1.3 million homes.

For growing crops, keeping fields green, saving water, and saving money, smart irrigation is smart business. Want to learn more about how IoT/M2M technology is changing the industry? Download our Smart Irrigation Industry Brief.

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