HANDS-OFF IRRIGATION CONTROL
SENSORS AND TRANSMITTERS ALLOW DATA-BASED IRRIGATION MANAGEMENT
FARMERS WHO prefer a hands-off approach to irrigation control can look to companies such as Stevens Water Monitoring Systems, which introduced an automated soil moisture sensor called the Hydra Probe for use by USDA researchers in 1995. That soil-sensing device measured soil moisture, conductivity and temperature.
Today the $324 Hydra Probe is available to farmers and is compatible with several types of irrigation systems. Its advanced electronics and programming make it smarter than a soil probe, collecting data on up to 10 parameters relevant to soil conditions in and below the crop root zone. The data can be read on site via a data logger that accepts a short-range Blue Tooth signal, or via a longer-range radio signal back at the farm office. No calibration is required.
The Hydra Probe also can transmit to a personal computer where the information can be represented graphically and even compared with satellite imagery data that show crop stress or soil surface conditions.
Another Stevens product, the high data rate transmitter model GHT, was recently certified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for use with the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) Data Collection System.
The transmitter, which sells for $1,695, allows an irrigation system to access NOAA real-time data about existing and approaching weather conditions. The data can be used for turning off irrigation water if a storm system is in the area, for instance. It works with any computer software using menu-driven commands. Customers can program their irrigation systems to react to specific NOAA data. Stevens provides an online GOES data reception, management and analysis service at www.goeslink.com.
For more information, contact Stevens Water Monitoring Systems, Dept. FIN, 5465 S.W. Western Ave., Suite F, Beaverton, OR 97005, 503/469-8000, visit www.stevenswater.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 195.
HOW WE IRRIGATE
HOW FARMERS DECIDE WHEN TO TURN SYSTEMS ON AND OFF
THE U.S. Census of Agriculture 2003 Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey reveals that the transition to advanced irrigation control technology has been steady, but slow.
Out of 220,163 farms surveyed, 175,560 farmers said they decide to irrigate by looking at the “condition of the crop.” The next most-relied-on method was to check the “feel” of the soil, tallying 76,731. Somewhat more sophisticated were the 15,323 farmers who rely on daily crop water transpiration reports and the 14,452 farmers who use a soil moisture-sensing device. Only 3,193 farms actually test plant tissue moisture, while 14,080 farmers admitted that they decide to turn the water on and off based on what they see their neighboring farmers doing.
CONTROL WATERING SYSTEMS FROM YOUR COMPUTER
AS HIGH-SPEED wireless Internet access becomes more available in rural areas, farmers are sure to find more ways to make it work on their farms. Already, a company called WGL and Associates has a prepackaged product that works specifically for controlling irrigation systems.
Last summer the company, which specializes in sprinkler controllers, started offering a networked controller product called Rain8net. The product allows more than 2,000 zones of irrigation to be controlled from a single RS232 serial port on a computer or other data management device.
The Rain8net building block starts with an eight-zone module just a little larger than a deck of cards. Additional units can be daisy-chained in eight-zone increments. Cost per zone is around $18. Features include the ability to transmit status reports on all zones and default timers that turn off the irrigation if the serial link is interrupted or the computer goes down. Timer settings range from 15 sec. (misting applications) to 3 hrs.