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For the fourth time in ten years, California farmers I know face a harsh reality. You won’t see a drop of water From federal reserves to replenish some of what you get from Mother Nature.
Water allocation has become a major issue across the state as citizens, environmentalists and farmers fight for their fair share in a drought that has made it impossible to please everyone.
Without help from the reserve, the farm was forced to fetch water from the land whenever possible. Many farmers who work on only a fraction of their usual supply are forced to neglect their fields, devastating their bottom line. For small farms, that may be the beginning of the end.
But I also saw a very different approach.
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Precision agriculture, using technologies like network sensors and artificial intelligence, is helping farmers to live without water once. Efficiency is real and the impact is tangible. I’ve seen up close how precision farming can make a huge difference for farms facing extreme drought.
However, embracing this technology is not always easy. In fact, we need to radically reexamine our relationship with water in agriculture.
From data to delivery
When it comes to irrigation, precision agriculture helps farmers understand how water is being utilized in two areas: maximizing delivery to sustain life.
In terms of understanding, data are supplementing and in some cases rewriting irrigation practices developed over generations. Irrigation has been and is still considered an art form. Farmers have long relied on a rule of thumb based on visual signs of water stress in their crops, or insights gained from working the land for decades. This ultimately led to the feeling of irrigation in general and nothing more.
But with access to specific data at both the individual plant level and the global level, that art form is turning into a science. This data is stronger than the circumstantial evidence on which decisions are based, providing the ability to see what was previously hidden. Let me share a case close to home.
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Our organization currently observes more than 1 billion trees in orchards worldwide, and sensors report data on variables such as soil moisture, water absorption and stem diameter every 10 minutes. That much information reveals key correlations that were not previously discovered. Most of these sensors and the data they collect aren’t new, but they’ve always been presented separately, requiring trained eyes and deliberate time to figure out what it means. It is precious time that growers do not have.
With the vast amount of information now available in one place, these systems can predict how soil moisture will be affected by factors such as temperature, humidity, and wind, and turn this into predictive algorithms. Herein lies the true potential of this technology. It is a prescription for when and where to water. The result is maximizing “yield per crop” to levels unimaginable just a few years ago.
However, knowing that a tree in a certain heat needs water is of little use if you don’t have the skills to water it.
This brings me to the second point of maximizing delivery. According to world bankAgriculture accounts for about 70% of global water use, and even the most efficient still result at considerable waste.
This is where precision agriculture helps farmers do their jobs better. The key is to combine these data-driven insights with smart pumps and valves to be agile and responsive enough to deliver water precisely when and where it is needed.
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Currently, farmers have a single valve serving large blocks of wood. Irrigation is controlled by physically sending someone to a water pump and control valve. The amount of time to apply water is largely determined by how long it takes to complete other tasks before returning to the site to shut off the water. Labor law also applies. If the best time to turn off the water occurs after working hours, the water is often left on until the next morning. Some fields inevitably consume too much water, leaching nutrients, wasting energy and eroding the soil, while others consume too little water, impairing the health, yield and quality of plants. Drought this formula, and this inefficiency becomes a bigger problem.
In precision agriculture, networked valves and pumps can provide automatic water supply without human waste. Over time, further developments in hardware and software will allow the large irrigation blocks we know today to be broken down into smaller parts to water precisely where it is needed most. Irrigation is evolving from a blunt tool to a finely targeted resource to a much more precise level.
You can’t move forward without efficiency
These solutions couldn’t come at a better time. California is now on the news with a three-year drought, but water scarcity is a familiar challenge to farmers around the world.
By 2050, the world population is projected to exceed 9 billion. huge increase In food production – fresh water around the world supply is dwindling. It is a difficult situation to expect. fuel crash in the next few decades.
These pressures are already falling head-on through the backs of individual farmers. When water cannot be obtained through government allocations, it must be purchased from more expensive sources. For the farmers we deal with, it’s often one of the biggest expenses on an annual budget.
The good news is that farmers who adopt precision farming are seeing results. Researcher who proposes Irrigation based on networked sensors can reduce water use by 10 to 25% as there is variability depending on crop type and region. As technology advances, that number will only increase. It’s not a panacea, but that boost can go a long way in surviving drought without bulldozing your fields or orchards.
Growing food insecurity requires a serious conversation about how to prioritize water use. Concern for the environment must be reconciled with basic human needs. Decade-old water allocation rules may need to be reexamined, let alone outdated policy initiatives. Fortunately, there are specific, actionable steps that individual farmers can take now to make a difference. Technology exists today to do more with less, and without technology there is no way forward.