Connecting soil sensor technology to the knowledge of experienced growers is a combination that offers better control of water and improved irrigation. Supported by open data, this allows for continuous monitoring and fine-tuning of growing environments for all participating farms.
“Open data is of great importance in the development of sustainable water projects,” says Annemarie Klaasse of eLEAF, one of the leading specialists in agricultural water management.
Even more important than farm-by-farm achievements is the pooling of individual experiences, building knowledge and adding to the ever more valuable series of datasets that are shareable with surrounding farmers. Looking to the future, the exponential growth in water resource data means speedier refinement in water management techniques as new data is opened up to agricultural researchers who can find even better ways to reduce water usage.
A good example of this process can be seen in pioneering work conducted in Egypt during 2008. It helped farmers there and in similar climatic regions connect the use of soil moisture systems to climate data and improve the efficiency of their irrigation systems. Cooperation between the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture and the Agency for International Business and Cooperation (EVD), part of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, introduced a new style of irrigation system, funded by the ‘Partners for Water’ programme. Soil moisture sensor specialist, DACOM reported that with 86% of the total annual water usage in Egypt consumed by the agricultural sector, a more refined irrigation ,and water management system helps Egypt conserve this precious resource.
DACOM and eLEAF (under its old name, WaterWatch), with local partners, combined their individual high-tech specialisms to deliver one integrated system, reliant on satellite and weather based open data sources. They drew on this information to help improve the efficiency of water used to grow strawberries, grapes and potatoes in the Western Nile delta.
Set up as a research project, the partners could compare the rate of water consumption used by traditional irrigation methods against the new, improved techniques. Much of this important information was retrieved from open data provided by European based satellite images and data. Over the life of the programme, farms were monitored during three growing seasons using in-situ measurements of soil moisture, detailed soil mappings and satellite observations.
Farm engineers were trained to use the DACOM software linked to the soil moisture sensors and digital irrigation management systems. Information on the soil and remote sensing were integrated using Google Maps. Klaasse explains the team were responsible for the monitoring of the farms using satellite observations. It became clear from this example that the more farmers and irrigation specialists became involved in the process, the greater the results.
“Making good data available to everyone will definitely improve decision making. And satellite derived data provides stakeholders with a reliable, consistent and objective source of information,” says Klaasse.
Since the Egyptian project ended DACOM has continued to develop and supply specialized hardware, software and online advisory services to farmers and the agribusiness worldwide. As a leading exponent of soil moisture sensor systems it contributes to scientific conferences and academic forums.
It is committed to irrigation advice that can report on how much water is absorbed by crops on a daily basis, backed up by DACOM findings which state, “In this way, in combination with the weather forecast in your area, the time and amount of irrigation can be determined. You will never use too much or too little water which contributes to optimal yielding.”
As for eLEAF, since 2008, it has conducted several further projects in Egypt, mainly on evaluation of irrigation systems and helping farmers improve water conservation. “We have also done similar projects in other countries, for example in Sudan where we offered a SMS service to farmers to help irrigation scheduling,” adds Klaasse.