Farm Table says:
How could sensor networks help with agricultural water management issues?
What is the problem?
Irrigated agriculture provides 40% of the World’s food from 20% of the agricultural land but uses 70% of all global
freshwater withdrawals. However, even supposedly efficient and well-managed irrigation systems waste up to 50% of the water applied to the crops under them.
Although Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent and might, therefore, be expected to be a leader in water
management, Australians are one of the highest water users per capita in the world with the agricultural sector largely irrigation) accounting for about 70% of total water use.
What did the research involve?
Alternative Irrigation Systems Trial – the field research site for this work is the Harvey Campus of the WA College of Agriculture which is located in the southern portion of the HIA.
The following systems were studied:
- a center pivot irrigator
- in sub-surface drip irrigation
- solid set irrigation is a system of irrigation sprinklers and piping placed permanently or semi-permanently in a field
- the floppy sprinkler overhead cable system
Water supply volumes to all sites at the trial location were metered over two (annual) growing seasons.
To ensure that variations in pasture growth and, therefore, measures of WUE varied only with water supply and
utilization, identical fertiliser applications were applied to all sites and stock movements around the sites were also managed to ensure consistent nutrient inputs from animal excretion.
All systems were assessed for Dry Matter Yield, Gross Water Use and WUE.
What were the key findings?
In this paper we assess the potential water savings and WUE improvements which could be obtained if alternative
irrigation systems were implemented throughout the HIA. The use of sensing systems as decision-support platforms and automated control systems is seen as essential to this adoption. Results of the field work described above were used to illustrate the potential water savings and increases in WUE which could be achieved through the use of alternative irrigation systems at the farm scale.
Optimization of irrigation systems through improved scheduling, better monitoring and measurement of soil and
crop water balances, optimization and synchronization of irrigation equipment and transitions to more water use
efficient technologies is the focus of much work in Australia and the rest of the world.