A New Age of Farming with Soil Moisture Technology

Agricultural producers in the area have hit the ground running when it comes to implementing strategies that will help reduce water withdrawal from our aquifer. Soil moisture sensors are one of the most popular precision tools that have been and are still being adopted by producers in the Suwannee River Basin. This technology helps the farmer make better irrigation decisions, aides with record keeping, and allows him to keep an eye on the crop’s roots. This serves as a win-win scenario for both the grower and our natural resources.

How Does it Work?

Soil moisture information from sensors helps farmers make better watering decisions based on output from near real-time data. The sensors, located at varying depths along the soil moisture probe, send out electrical signals periodically. The time it takes the signal to transmit through the soil and then return to the sensor along with changes in the signal structure are entered into a mathematical algorithm which calculates the soil moisture content. The signals are emitted at many depths along the probe (beneath the soil surface) which show farmers the depths where roots are actively taking up water. Farmers can also see where fertilizer salts might be accumulating in the soil – serving as a guide for making improved decisions on fertilizer inputs as well. The data are viewed online and can be observed shortly after installation and obtaining a log-in.

Economic and Environmental Benefits

With this tool farmers can potentially decrease both water and fertilizer inputs as well as costs. One way the producer can reduce input costs is by making better use of rainfall and growing a healthier crop by not overwatering which can increase yield. Using soil moisture sensors, a grower can dry down the soil prior to a rain event thereby increasing the capacity of the soil to store rain water. Any water a grower does not need to pump saves money. Additionally, many producers are now looking at irrigation schedules (a game plan for how a crop should be irrigated) for individual crops. The information in this watering “game plan” is based on things like: planting date, type of crop, and season or time of year. Employing soil moisture sensors, coupled with an irrigation schedule, provides new opportunities for growers to increase yield and reduce costs. By managing irrigation more precisely and accurately, nutrients are much less susceptible to be lost before being utilized up by the plant. Overall, the quality and quantity of our precious water resources are being enhanced through the use of this little tool.

Impacts

Since January of 2017, the Suwannee River Water Management District has partnered with farms throughout the region to enable the use of 228 sensors, which has helped reduce water use by over 4 million gallons of water per day (see the Suwannee River Water Management District homepage).

Since January of 2017, the Suwannee River Water Management District has partnered with farms throughout the region to enable the use of 228 sensors, which has helped reduce water use by over 4 million gallons of water per day (see the Suwannee River Water Management District homepage) This amount does not include sensors cost-shared by other conservation agencies, or the farmers who are increasingly purchasing the technology without any assistance. UF|IFAS Regional Specialized Extension Agent of Water Resources, Dr. Charles Barrett is leading a region-wide effort which entails loaning out probes to commercial producers who have not yet implemented the use of probes on their operations. So far, within only a couple of recent months, this project has introduced the sensor technology to over 15 new irrigated farms… and going.

Dr. Charles Barrett and Joel Love demonstrate how to interpret soil moisture sensor graph data at a corn field day in Suwannee County.

For more information on soil moisture probes, contact your local agriculture or water resource extension agent.

By: Dr. Charles Barrett, Water Resources Regional Extension Agent and De Broughton, Commercial Crops Extension Agent, Suwannee County

Sources: Suwannee River Water Management District

UF|IFAS Extension in Suwannee County is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

 

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