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Current Trends in Smart Irrigation

by Yahya Mubarak Imonikhe
Current Trends in Smart Irrigation

Agriculture accounts for nearly 70% of global freshwater withdrawals, according to a report by FAO. The rate is poised to increase alongside global food demand and population growth. As a result, our water resources are bound to undergo immense pressure. 

Traditional irrigation methods have served us well so far. They have been our go-to source for alternative agricultural water supply for generations. However, more is required to truly practice precision farming

The cry for sustainability and the need for more efficient water management call for improvements in water use. 

This gives rise to smart irrigation, a massive upgrade to how we grow crops. Understanding smart irrigation exposes us to the endless possibilities of water management. This article discusses the current landscape of smart irrigation and the benefits it poses.

Tab in smart irrigation

Source: iStock

Current Smart Irrigation Solutions

Smart irrigation has already made important strides in enhancing water efficiency. Farm productivity has also increased due to precision in water application. With smart irrigation, farmers can make more informed decisions about optimising water usage. 

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So what are the current smart irrigation trends? Let’s examine some of them.

Sensor-Based Automation

In a time where sustainability is a global buzzword, precise water application is a major shot at resource management.  Traditionally, farmers rely on instinct for irrigation schedules. And much later, weather forecasts became the guiding factor. 

But in smart irrigation, sensor systems have become the core. They are like the powerhouse of modern irrigation. They continuously monitor factors like soil moisture, temperature, and weather conditions. 

Sensors are placed strategically across farms, where they can collect accurate data. This real-time data allows for automated irrigation schedules. The most intriguing role of sensors in smart irrigation is the precision they offer. 

For example, soil moisture sensors trigger irrigation during specific dryness thresholds. It eliminates under or overwatering and ensures optimal water delivery for healthy crops. 

Here’s how sensors work in smart irrigation:

Network of Sensors

A network of strategically placed sensors acts as the eyes and ears of the system. They continuously collect data on various environmental factors that are critical to plant growth. These sensors can include:

  • Soil Moisture Sensors:  They measure the amount of water present in the ground. It’s like checking the moisture level of soil by sticking your finger in it.  When the sensor detects that the soil moisture level dips below a specific threshold, it sends a signal to the irrigation system, triggering an automated watering cycle.
  • Temperature Sensors: Temperature sensors monitor both air and soil temperatures.  During hot and sunny weather, the soil heats up, causing water to evaporate more quickly. The sensor picks up on this change and signals the irrigation system to adjust the watering schedule, potentially increasing the watering frequency to compensate for the increased evaporation rate.
  • Humidity Sensors: Humidity sensors track the amount of moisture present in the air.  High humidity levels indicate slower evaporation rates from the soil surface. This information helps the irrigation system adjust watering schedules accordingly.  For example, on a humid morning with minimal wind, the system might delay or reduce irrigation compared to a hot, dry afternoon where evaporation is rapid.
  • Wind Speed Sensors: When strong winds are present, they can significantly increase the evaporation rate of water from the soil surface.  By factoring in wind speed data, the irrigation system can adjust water application to compensate for these potential losses, ensuring your crops receive the necessary moisture even on windy days.
Real-Time Data Analysis

The data collected is transmitted wirelessly to a central hub or cloud-based platform. There, it is analysed in real-time, and conclusions are drawn.

Automated Irrigation Adjustments

Based on the sensor data and pre-programmed parameters, the system automatically triggers irrigation cycles. Alternatively, it adjusts water flow rates to ensure optimal soil moisture levels for the specific crop being grown.

Benefits of Sensor-Based Automation

  • Reduced Water Waste: Watering is based on actual needs rather than a predetermined schedule. Sensor-based automation eliminates overwatering and conserves precious water resources.
  • Improved Crop Health: Maintaining optimal soil moisture levels promotes healthy plant growth and reduces the risk of drought stress.
  • Increased Efficiency: Automated irrigation eliminates the need for manual monitoring and adjustments. Hence, farmers can free up valuable time.
  • Reduced Labor Costs: Automating irrigation tasks can lead to significant labor cost savings for farms. This is particularly important for those managing large acreages.

Mobile App Control

Irrigation apps give farmers convenient control over irrigation systems. It empowers them to monitor and adjust irrigation schedules remotely. 

Additionally, it saves time and resources as farmers can take immediate action based on the data received. 

Mobile device smart irrigation trend

Source; iStock

Mobile app control offers farmers the following:

  • Real-Time System Monitoring: Farmers can access a user-friendly mobile app to view real-time data. This could be data on soil moisture levels, water flow rates, and even system status. 

What’s more? They can access the data from anywhere with an internet connection. This allows them to stay informed about their fields’ irrigation needs, even when they are not physically present.

  • Remote Adjustments: The mobile app provides a platform for farmers to remotely adjust irrigation schedules. They can activate or deactivate specific zones within a field, or even fine-tune system settings as needed. With this, they can react to sudden changes in weather or field conditions quickly and efficiently.
  • Historical Data Analysis: Apps associated with smart irrigation allow farmers to view historical data. These may include data on irrigation cycles, water usage, and crop growth patterns. This data can be invaluable for identifying trends and optimizing future irrigation strategies. 

Benefits of Mobile App Control

  • Enhanced Efficiency: Remote monitoring and adjustments eliminate the need for frequent trips to the field. And as a result, valuable time and resources are saved.
  • Improved Decision-Making: Access to data empowers farmers to make decisions about irrigation adjustments based on real-time data.
  • Increased Productivity: Mobile apps allow farmers to streamline irrigation management.  They allow farmers to focus on other aspects of their farm operations.
  • Greater Convenience: The ability to manage irrigation systems remotely offers flexibility and convenience. This is especially important for farmers managing multiple fields or locations.

Data-driven Decision-Making

Automation is one side of the coin. Smart irrigation goes beyond that. Being one of the most crucial smart irrigation trends, data-driven decision-making It operates as a powerful and functional data collection tool. 

The interconnected system of devices interacts with each other to give valuable insights. These insights, such as water usage, crop health, etc. guide farmers’ decision-making. 

It also offers historical data that can guide overall farm management. So how does smart irrigation transform irrigation into a data-driven science? 

  • Data Collection and Storage: Smart irrigation systems continuously collect a wealth of data points. Information like soil moisture levels, temperature, humidity, wind speed, and water usage per zone could be stored in the cloud. This allows for secure and easy access and data analysis. 
  • Data Visualization and Analytics: User-friendly dashboards present the collected data in clear and concise formats. It gives them control over their data by presenting them in one comprehensive dashboard. Therefore, farmers can visualize trends and identify areas for improvement. 

Advanced analytics tools can even help identify correlations between specific environmental factors and crop performance.

  • Informed Irrigation Strategies: Analysing historical and current data empowers farmers to make accurate decisions. 

Benefits of Data-Driven Decision-Making in Smart Irrigation

  • Increased Yields: Data-driven irrigation ensures crops receive the optimal amount of water. It ensures crops experience healthy growth, potentially leading to higher yields.
  • Reduced Water Waste: By pinpointing field-specific water needs, farmers can conserve precious water resources.
  • Improved Sustainability: Data analysis empowers farmers to adopt sustainable irrigation practices that minimize environmental impact.
  • Enhanced Farm Management: Data-driven insights can inform broader farm management decisions, like fertilizer application or pest control strategies.

Leak Detection Systems

Leaks in irrigation may be small and silent, but they can be costly. They lead to the waste of precious water and resources. Small leaks as minor as a single bad gasket in a filter are often overlooked. Whereas they can play a huge role in water use efficiency. 

leakage detection smart irrigation

Source: iStock

Leak detection systems are emerging as a vital tool for farmers to identify and address leaks promptly. 

They minimize water loss and maximize irrigation efficiency. Ever wondered how a leak detection system works? Here’s how:

  • Sensor-based detection: These systems utilize pressure sensors or flow meters placed within the irrigation network. Anomalies in water pressure or unexpected fluctuations in flow rates can indicate a potential leak.
  • Acoustic leak detection: Advanced systems employ sophisticated microphones to detect the unique sound signature of water leaks. This allows for pinpointing the exact location of the leak underground, streamlining repair efforts.
  • Satellite imagery: In some cases, high-resolution satellite imagery can be used to identify areas of excessive moisture buildup in fields, potentially indicating underground leaks.

Benefits of Leak Detection Systems:

  • Reduced Water Waste: Early detection and repair of leaks prevent significant water loss, benefitting both farmers (cost savings) and the environment (water conservation).
  • Improved Efficiency: By eliminating leaks, farmers ensure that water reaches its intended target – the crops – maximizing irrigation efficiency.
  • Enhanced System Maintenance: Leak detection systems provide valuable insights into the health of the irrigation infrastructure, allowing for proactive maintenance and preventing future leaks.

Remote Monitoring

The ability to monitor irrigation systems remotely empowers farmers with unprecedented control and flexibility. This trend is fueled by the rise of Internet of Things (IoT) technology, which allows various irrigation components to connect wirelessly and transmit data to a central hub.

Remote monitoring allows farmers to:

  • Visualise real-time data: Farmers can access real-time data on soil moisture levels, water flow rates, and even weather conditions directly from their smartphones or computers. This allows for informed decision-making about irrigation adjustments based on up-to-the-minute field conditions.
  • Receive alerts & notifications: Smart irrigation systems can be programmed to send alerts via SMS or email when specific thresholds are reached, like critically low soil moisture or malfunctioning equipment. This allows for prompt intervention and prevents potential issues from escalating.
  • Improve troubleshooting: Remote access to system data allows farmers or irrigation service providers to troubleshoot problems remotely, potentially saving time and resources on unnecessary site visits.

Benefits of Remote Monitoring

  • Enhanced Efficiency: Real-time data facilitates informed irrigation decisions, preventing overwatering and ensuring optimal water delivery for healthy crop growth.
  • Increased Productivity: Remote monitoring eliminates the need for frequent manual field checks, freeing up valuable time for farmers to focus on other aspects of their operations.
  • Improved Decision-Making: Historical data collected by the system can be analyzed to identify trends and patterns, allowing farmers to refine their irrigation strategies for future seasons.

Analysing Smart Irrigation 

Smart irrigation offers us the chance to leverage advanced technologies in water management. Problems like overwatering and underwatering can finally be put to bed. 

Small, yet critical issues like leaks can be detected before they pose further harm. And farmers can make decisions based on data gathered through smart irrigation systems.

These irrigation solutions are empowering farmers to become better stewards of the earth’s water resources. At the same time, they can optimize resource use and increase productivity. 

There may be concerns about the affordability of these irrigation solutions. This is mostly true for underdeveloped and developing nations, where agriculture is still on slow growth. 

With the majority of agricultural practices dependent on smallholder farmers, the onus is on the government and other NGOs to intervene. This way, developing nations can have a taste of what technology has to offer in terms of water management and use. 

smart irrigation system

Source: iStock

It is noteworthy that in no time, technology will push irrigation further. With trends like artificial intelligence and robotics gaining traction, we could experience more intervention in smart irrigation. 

We could transition into ultra-smart irrigation, where we would experience ultra-precise water delivery to the crop root zone where water is most utilized. 

We could also head into a more holistic approach to farm management. In this approach, irrigation is seamlessly integrated into operations like automated planting, weeding, and farming with AI

While we look forward to future trends staking their claim in irrigation practices, we must pay heed to current solutions changing the narrative. 

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