Overcoming drought with new technology
How precision farming technology is helping Western Cape farmers to tackle drought and climate change.
Horticulture is a well-known activity in the Western Cape province in South Africa – deciduous and citrus fruit, berries, vineyards, and vegetables. It also produces livestock, meat and dairy, and field crops like wheat, barley, and canola. The benefits of precision farming are described by the new article of Future Farming, written by Udette Kruger.
Increasing need for irrigation
Water is a vital resource for every crop. By around 2050, climate change forecasts for the Western Cape suggest warming of 1.5°C to 3°C. While the need for irrigation increases, the restocking of existing water sources becomes more unsure. Farmers need to produce “more crop per drop”. Smart sensors in agriculture become an indispensable tool to help long term soil management and real time irrigation decisions.
Precision farming practices can get farmers through tough times
When talking about smart farming, there are a few requirements for effective irrigation scheduling. The three minimum requirements for effective irrigation scheduling was used to determine how much water would be needed in the orchards. The three basics are:
1- A weather station to monitor seven days in advance what the weather demand will be;
2- A flow meter to precisely capture the amount of water that reaches each orchard;
3- Soil observations with the help of a soil auger or soil moisture sensors in the root zone to monitor that the soil moisture was ideal during critical phenological stages and to a depth of 80cm.
Avoiding deep drainage
Regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) principles were used to ensure optimal soil moisture during the different growth stages of the crop. Probes were closely monitored to make sure that deep drainage (water passing 80cm) was avoided. The soil moisture readings were determined with soil moisture probes or physical feeling/evaluation of the soil where possible. By knowing how much water was available and how much was needed, irrigation priorities could be set.
Soil Moisture Sensors for precision irrigation
Soil moisture sensors measure plant-available water as a function of soil volumetric water content. Each soil type, crop and variety have different irrigation needs which means that placing the probes in the most representative locations is paramount to using the data they generate correctly to make the right irrigation decisions.
With the latest probe technology, farmers are able to allocate the exact amount of water needed to conserve water for later in the season when it is needed. Water usage is then managed in terms of present and future water applications. Any sensor used for irrigation purposes needs to help the grower answer two questions: when to irrigate and how much. ‘When’ relates to the starting soil moisture before irrigation and what RDI principle is being followed. ‘How much’ relates to the soil’s texture and how deep the water infiltrates when it is applied.
Sensoterra is a worldwide leader in soil moisture sensing supporting farmers, landscapers, and smart cities to make wiser irrigation decisions for crop management. Connected via LoRaWAN technology, sensors are wireless, ready to provide soil moisture data from remote areas to urban farmings. When considering changes in the weather, soil moisture sensing becomes essential to indicate real crop needs at the root zone. Growers are able to control over-irrigation, save water, save energy and time, while remotely manage multiple fields.
Caroline is a Soil Data Manager at Sensoterra. Previously, she worked as a laboratory analyst, responsible for data analysis of roots and soil, identifying pesticide contamination and plant accumulation. Her background is in Environmental Science, with a Masters's degree in Water & Environment from Radboud University.Get in touch