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 vital 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 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 helpful tool for farmers, giving a glimpse below-ground to see how much water is 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 take up water and the relative amounts of moisture available across the vertical soil profile.
Sensor Loaner-Trainer Program
Through grants from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, UF/IFAS Extension Martin County obtained five soil moisture sensors for growers to try out. Most of the units come with 2-foot-long probes for in-ground production. We also have one unit for container-based production. 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, seven farmers and nursery growers in Martin and St. Lucie counties have participated in the loaner-trainer program. For more information or to participate in the loaner-trainer program in the Treasure Coast, please contact Yvette Goodiel. Elsewhere in Florida, reach out to your local UF/IFAS Extension office or Dr. Vivek Sharma, Assistant Professor, Precision Water Management and leader of the UF/IFAS Extension statewide soil moisture sensor loaner-trainer network.