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Soil Moisture Sensor Loaner-Trainer Program for Treasure Coast Farmers

Why use soil moisture sensors?

Farmers have to carefully manage water supply for their crops.  Too much or too little irrigation can damage or stress the crop, making it more vulnerable to weed competition, insect pests, and/or disease.  Additionally, good irrigation management is of vital importance in conserving water and preventing fertilizer runoff and leaching.  It can be very difficult to tell how much water is available underground for the crop’s roots.  To complicate the situation further, rains come and increase soil moisture, dry sunny days evaporate water from the soil, plant roots access deeper soil layers as they grow, and water uptake varies as the plant moves through stages of growth.  So there is no “set it and forget it” easy solution for managing irrigation.

How do sensors help?

Soil moisture sensors are a useful tool for farmers, giving a glimpse below-ground, to see how much water is really available for their crops.  Our sensors transmit data using cell phone antennas to provide near real-time information on the internet.  Farmers can then monitor trends and adjust irrigation in response to current conditions.  Moisture sensor probes collect data at different soil depths too.  This allows farmers to see the soil layers in which plants are taking up water and the relative amounts of moisture available across the vertical soil profile.

Soil moisture sensor above-ground components, including rain sensor and solar power source.  Photo credit: Marina Burani-Arouca, UF/IFAS

Sensor Loaner-Trainer Program

Through a Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services grant, UF/IFAS Extension was able to purchase two soil moisture sensors for growers to try out.  After installing the sensors on participating farms, Extension Agents help the growers become familiar with the data and learn how to apply the information in adjusting their irrigation schedule.  So far, three farmers growing vegetables in Martin and St. Lucie counties have participated in the loaner-trainer program, and Agents are currently accepting requests for the fall season.  For more information or to participate in the program, please contact either Yvette Goodiel (goodiel@ufl.edu) or Christine Kelly-Begazo (ckellybe@ufl.edu).

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