Agriculture is a major element for survival of the human race and of the economic system. 42 percent of the world’s laborers are employed in agriculture, making it by far the most common occupation.
With agriculture using approximately 60 percent of available freshwater withdrawals, concerns continue to grow over farmers implementing water conservation practices.
Increasing contamination of waterways and wetlands by nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are other concerns being directed towards farmers. Most farmers empathize with environmental concerns and have taken stewardship roles in water conservation and land management to reduce runoff.
However, the farmer’s business mission is to optimize the yield and quality of their crops, which can be accomplished by optimizing water usage. For crop irrigation, optimal water efficiency means minimizing losses due to evaporation or runoff. With crop engineering, soil management and new technology and information, the agricultural industry and conservationists are working together towards an inclusive objective of conserving water usage, reducing runoff and optimizing crop quality and yield.
Advanced technology, such as the Stevens HydraProbe soil sensor, accurately monitors water usage and supplies data that can help a farmer maximize their yield while minimizing runoff. Furthermore, farmers can actually be compensated for conservation efforts though the U.S. Farm Bill.
Mr. Bill Vandehey is one such farmer looking to maximize the efficiency of his operation through the use of technology. Owner and operator of a blueberry farm in Oregon, he became interested in Steven’s products after learning that farmers can receive credits from the Federal Government for installing such equipment.
The agriculture soil management system installed at Mr. Vandehey’s farm includes two monitoring stations, powered by a battery / solar panel combination. Each has four HydraProbe soil sensors at depths of 3, 8, 16, and 30 inches, a rain gauge and ambient temperature sensor connected to a DOT Logger. The DOT Logger transmits sensor readings via radio to a nearby land line modem. From Mr. Vandehey’s computer with a phone modem, data is collected and processed using DAQFactory data management software. These sensors were placed at specific depths to measure the water, temperature and conductivity gradient of the soil, giving Mr. Vandehey information on whether too much or too little water and fertilization is being applied to the root zone of his crops. The data analysis includes evapotranspiration (ET) formula using direct soil conditions and trend analysis at different soil depths.
“Bill’s system allows him to ‘see’ beneath the soil surface and monitor soil moisture,” explained Dean Moberg, District Conservationist with the USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service in Washington County Oregon. “This provides several benefits: farmers can reduce costs for water and pumping, they save on fertilizer because less nitrate leaches below the root zone, they can reduce fungicide applications because fruit and foliage doesn’t get wet as often and they comply with local agricultural water quality regulations. Plus, they qualify for USDA cost-sharing. Thus, the benefits of this system go far beyond the farms where it is used.”
The blueberry crops Mr. Vandehey grows are particularly sensitive to water stress, so this information can be critical during the hot summer months. Studying the soil gradient data, the migration efficiency and speed of water through and beyond the plant's root zone can easily be charted and analyzed. As a result, optimizing the duration and volume of water can ultimately be achieved to assure that water is not traveling beyond the root zone and not fully saturating the roots, and water is efficiently filtrating through the soil and not running off.
In addition to the HydraProbe helping to manage the optimal irrigation and fertilization, the system is also designed with alarms to notify Mr. Vandehey of adverse conditions such as frost potential, which can damage crops.