Digital cloud lets farmer know when to water

To tackle drought Mr Schur uses drought-resistant seed, evaporation transpiration technologies, and a system of water probes that harness cloud computing and the internet to predict when to water and when to turn the taps off.

The solar-powered probes are placed in the fields, buried to a depth of about 60 inches (1.5 metres), with soil moisture sensors every four inches along a vertical column.

The sensors send signals every three minutes, tracking moisture and salinity at each level, and the state of the roots of your crop.

At the top of the probes are mini mobile phone masts that transmit the data gathered to servers where it is processed using complex algorithms.

The results are then held in the cloud and displayed on a dashboard accessible online from any computer or smart phone.

The system can also send text alerts and emails with instructions on when irrigation should next take place, whether to fertilise, and if pesticides can be used.

"Water availability is gradually declining. Even 30 years ago we had probably twice as much water as we have now."

Glenn Schur has been farming for 30 years.

His father first moved to the plains around Plainview, Texas in the late 1940s, and after graduating from college Mr Schur returned home to work on the farm he now owns.

Almost half of the property’s 1,800 acres are given over to cotton production, the rest is divided between grain sorghum, wheat, seed crops and livestock.

Times are hard for Texan farmers. The state is in the grip of a severe drought, and there has been no rain in Plainview for nearly a year.

"What we’re having to do is irrigate rather extensively to make a crop. In all the dry areas, the seed is still laying in the ground like the day we planted it," he says.

"We recorded the highest average temperature for the month of July since records have been kept, and that was in 1911. We’ve experienced record wind speeds as well."

When the rains fail, this area of the United States relies on the Ogallala aquifer, which stretches from North Dakota all the way down to Texas. But this is a finite resource, and one that is in danger of drying out.

The farmers of Texas aren’t giving up without a fight though.

Water level

Mr Schur is part of the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation. Across 32 sites in two counties, the group is monitoring the rainfall and the water that is pumped, calculating the gross profit margin for every crop.

 

Aqua Spy’s subscribers can access crop data from this dashboard from any computer or smartphone.



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