A smart way to irrigate crops – and save water

Wednesday, 30 July, 2014
EU-funded researchers have developed a smart irrigation system that calculates the exact amount of water crops need each day. The technology allows farmers to save time, effort and water and achieve the best yield possible – drop by drop.

Farming is one of the biggest users of water in the EU. In southern parts of Europe, irrigation uses around half of all the water taken from springs, rivers, lakes and underground sources each year, according to  the European Environment Agency.

A lot of this water is wasted, and one of the main causes is over-irrigation  – more is used than the crops actually need. Taking the guesswork out of how much water crops need would reduce wastage – and save farmers money.

The EU-funded ENORASIS project built a system that does just that, combining an advanced weather prediction system that uses satellite data with information from a network of sensors in the fields to help farmers decide how much water to give their crops.

The system is good for the environment, too, since preventing excess water being put onto fields will help prevent run-off, a cause of water pollution and soil erosion.

ENORASIS’ project manager, Machi Simeonidou of project coordinator Draxis Environmental, explains: “Team members had previously worked with water management authorities and on other projects on using water. They thought it would be a good idea to integrate all these systems into one system.”
She adds: “The system is very useable. It does not require any specialist knowledge or background. It is a simple decision-support tool for day-to-day irrigation decisions.”

How it works

Farmers who sign up for the ENORASIS system have installed a network of wireless sensors and water valves across their farms. The sensors collect information on all the factors that influence how much water crops need, such as soil humidity, air temperature, sunshine, wind speed and rainfall, while the system monitors the water valves to factor in how much water the farmer has already added to the fields.

Using an advanced weather prediction model, along with satellite images of the fields and information from the sensors on the farm, the system creates a personalised weather forecast for the farm. The result gives a detailed prediction for the next three days, which can be broken down into areas as small as two square kilometres.

ENORASIS combines weather forecast and monitoring information with data about the farm’s crops to create a detailed daily irrigation plan that best suits the needs of each crop. The model also includes crop yield data and energy and water costs, helping farmers decide whether extra irrigation will increase yields profitably or cause a loss.

The farmer can access the ENORASIS platform through a variety of connected devices – for example a smartphone in the field or a desktop computer at home.

Testing underway

Four pilot schemes are already in place to test the system, in continental and island Mediterranean regions and in North Central and South Central Europe. These focus on six crop types – potato, maize, apple, sweet cherry, cotton and grapefruit – and are in commercial and research farms to cover a realistic range of cases. The team expects to have the first full results of the tests in October 2014.

The project also helps water companies make more informed decisions, for example on whether or not to increase investment in infrastructure or to introduce smart water pricing to encourage more sustainable water use.
After the end of the project in December 2014, the project partners intend to make the ENORASIS solution commercially available.

ENvironmental Optimization of IRrigAtion Management with the Combined uSe and Integration of High PrecisIon Satellite Data, Advanced Modeling, Process Control and Business Innovation
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