New Irrigation System Asks "Can You Hear Me
By Erin Peabody
July 12, 2007
Is it true, as some "green
thumbers" claim, that talking to our plants really helps them thrive?
If you ask Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist
Evanswho's built a state- of-the-art irrigation system that uses the
latest in wireless technology for "communicating" with his
cropsthe answer is probably "yes."
An agricultural engineer, Evans isn't so much talking as listening to
plantsthanks to the prototype irrigation system he and colleagues have
developed, which comprises Bluetooth technology, sensors, weather stations and
traditional irrigation equipment.
Evans works at the
Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory in Sidney, Mont. He and
ARS research associate
Kim built the novel irrigation system with two goals in mind: to increase
crop survivability and save precious water and fertilizer.
So just how does their technology work? Scattered across a field are sensors
that, like little thermometers, constantly take the temperature of the plants
and soil around them. Bluetooth enables the sensors to wirelessly transmit data
back to the base station, which then instructs individual sprinkler heads
exactly how much water to dole out.
The new system washes away one of the biggest challenges facing irrigators:
the endless variation in soil types that can exist across a field.
Take, for instance, clay and sandy soils, which have nearly opposite
behaviors: one practically repels water, while the other sucks it in readily.
But in a given field, these soils may be close neighbors, leading to an
inevitable underwatering or overwatering scenario.
However, Evans and Kim's system treats a field not as a
"one-size-fits-all" soil zone, but as a collection of smaller,
individual plots, each with its own set of organic idiosyncrasies.
According to Evans, innovations such as these are necessary if society is to
better manage its diminishing freshwater suppliesan estimated 60 percent
of which are currently used for irrigation worldwide.
more in the current issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.