Stepping up

Get the most out of your water by upgrading your irrigation system in 4 steps.
BY VICENTE OSSA
A person stands in an agriculture field with a cell phone out. The words Stepping Up are overlaid on the image.
(Photos: WiseConnUSA)

Irrigation systems play a critical role in crop growth and yield, and upgrading them can significantly improve efficiency and productivity in an attractive payback period. Let’s discuss the benefits of improving your irrigation system and why it has become more relevant for farmers due to the need to increase crop yields, the impact of climate change on rainfall patterns and advancements in technology that have made these systems more efficient and effective. We will see the advantages of smart irrigation practices and how you should start planning if you want to go for implementation.

Why upgrade irrigation systems?

Agriculture is the backbone of the global economy and plays a critical role in feeding the growing population. As that total number rises, the demand for food increases, and farmers must optimize their operations to meet this demand. Climate change, on the other hand, has brought about various challenges, such as water scarcity, extreme weather conditions and soil degradation among others. These challenges demand innovative solutions, and upgrading irrigation systems is a step in the right direction. Upgrading irrigation systems can provide farmers with numerous benefits that can help them optimize their operations and increase their productivity.

Perhaps the most significant advantage of upgrading irrigation systems is increased water efficiency. Traditional irrigation methods, such as flood and sprinkler systems, can be highly wasteful, with much of the water being lost to evaporation, runoff or deep percolation. This not only wastes valuable resources but can also contribute to soil degradation and other environmental problems. According to the United Nations, agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater use globally, making water efficiency a crucial factor in sustainable agriculture.

Smart irrigation solutions, on the other hand, utilize advanced sensors and data analytics to optimize water usage and ensure that crops receive the right amount of water at the right time. This can significantly reduce water waste and improve crop yields. By using real-time data and analytics, farmers can adjust irrigation scheduling and water usage according to the specific needs of each crop, thereby maximizing crop growth and yield. Smart irrigation systems also allow for precise irrigation, where water is delivered directly to the roots of the plants, reducing the amount of water that is lost through evaporation or runoff. This results in water savings of up to 50%, which can significantly reduce water expenses for farmers.

Smart irrigation solutions provide real-time data and analytics that help farmers optimize the amount and timing of fertilizer application, reducing costs and minimizing the risk of over-application that can lead to environmental damage.

In addition to saving water, upgrading irrigation systems can reduce fertilizer use by making it more efficient. Traditional irrigation methods often result in the over-application of fertilizers, leading to environmental damage and increased costs for farmers. Smart irrigation solutions provide real-time data and analytics that help farmers optimize the amount and timing of fertilizer application, reducing costs and minimizing the risk of over-application that can lead to environmental damage. This results in more efficient use of fertilizer and healthier crops.

Another advantage of upgrading irrigation systems is reduced labor costs. Traditional irrigation methods often require a lot of manual labor, such as opening and closing valves and pumps, moving sprinklers, or checking soil moisture levels in the field. Smart irrigation systems, however, can automate all of these tasks, freeing up farmers to focus on other aspects of their operations.

In addition to these benefits, upgrading irrigation systems can also improve crop yields and quality. By ensuring that crops receive the right amount of water and nutrients, farmers can optimize their growth and development, leading to higher yields and better-quality produce. This is especially important in areas with limited water resources, where smart irrigation solutions can help farmers produce more food with less water.

Another key aspect of automation is the integration of filters that automatically initiate flushing cycles. Filters remove debris and prevent clogging, ensuring uninterrupted water flow and maintaining system performance. By automating this process, the irrigation system operates efficiently without manual intervention, reducing maintenance needs and ensuring consistent water supply to crops.

Furthermore, automation enables intelligent water management from water dams and other water sources, optimizing the utilization of deep wells. By analyzing factors such as water availability, crop needs and water quality, the system can make informed decisions on water allocation, ensuring the most efficient use of resources. This automation minimizes the reliance on deep wells and maximizes the utilization of alternative water sources, promoting sustainability and reducing strain on groundwater reserves.

Now that we’ve discussed why upgrading irrigation systems is a good decision let’s explore some of the best practices for implementing smart irrigation solutions. There are some basic best practices that farmers should follow.

→ Step 1: Conduct a site analysis

Conducting a site analysis is the first step in implementing smart irrigation practices. This involves assessing the soil type, topography and microclimate of the farm, as well as the crop types and water requirements. This information can then be used to determine the optimal irrigation system and scheduling for the specific site.

→ Step 2: Install sensors

Once the site analysis is complete, the next step is to install sensors to monitor soil moisture levels, weather conditions and other key factors that affect crop growth and water usage. These sensors can be connected to a central system that uses data analytics to optimize irrigation scheduling and water usage.

→ Step 3: Implement automation

Automation is a critical component of smart irrigation solutions. By automating tasks such as turning on and off irrigation systems, adjusting water flow rates and monitoring soil moisture levels, farmers can save time and reduce water, fertilizer, energy and labor. This can be achieved through the use of smart systems that can monitor and control programming to adjust irrigation based on real-time data and weather forecasts.

→ Step 4: Utilize data analytics

Data analytics is the final step and another key component of smart irrigation solutions. Farmers can gain valuable insights into their operations and make more informed decisions regarding water usage, fertilizer injection, crop scheduling and other factors by collecting and analyzing data from sensors and other sources. This can lead to improved crop yields, reduced water waste and lower operating costs.

Overall, technological advancements have made irrigation systems more efficient and effective, simplifying the daily tasks of growers and farmers. This has made them a more attractive option, given their attractive return on investment and fast payback period. Additionally, they are becoming a necessary instrument for investors and farm managers to track resource use and make informed decisions in a scalable and simple manner.

Vicente Ossa is a marketing strategy manager for WiseConnUSA in Los Angeles.
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