More crop per drop: Intelligent irrigation Aussie-style

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Australia’s national science agency CSIRO has partnered with Goanna Ag, a Queensland-based manufacturer of agricultural sensing systems for water-use efficiency, to ensure irrigation water used to grow crops is not wasted.

In an Australian first, WaterWise is the only water-use efficiency product for irrigated crops that measures crop water stress and predicts future water needs in real time. The solution is set to help growers save water or boost crop yield.

Goanna Ag will be delivering WaterWise’s smart analytics as a data stream to its on-farm customers, which will now have access to a brand new, Australian-made, science-based technology that can be incorporated into the company’s existing GoField irrigation management system developed for cotton growers.

Being able to predict when to irrigate will allow our clients – farmers – to plan based on what the plant needs,” explained Alicia Garden, Goanna Ag’s CEO.

The WaterWise uses in-field sensors to measure the canopy temperature of crops every 15 minutes. It then sends the data to CSIRO’s sensor data infrastructure, adds in the weather forecast and uses machine learning to apply CSIRO’s unique algorithm to predict the crop’s water requirements for the next seven days.

CSIRO's Dr Rose Brodrick with a prototype WaterWise sensor in tomatoes.

CSIRO’s Dr Rose Brodrick with a prototype WaterWise sensor in tomatoes.

According to WaterWise’s team leader, Dr Rose Brodrick, it is the system’s ability to predict the future that represents a real breakthrough. It means for the first time, growers can see the water stress of their crops at any point and predict their future water needs.

Just like humans, plants have an optimum temperature,” said Brodrick. “When things are normal it’s easier to predict when a plant will need water. But when conditions change – like with a new crop, a new field, or unusually hot or cold weather forecasted – farmers want backup with their decision making. The usual strategy is ‘if you’re unsure, just add water’. This is where using high tech can help give them data and more confidence in their decision making, because every drop counts.

CSIRO is well placed to develop and commercialise agtech innovations such as WaterWise, as it can deploy a range of skill sets from agronomists to plant physiologists, data and machine learning experts, software engineers, social scientists and innovation specialists.

The agency is now working on taking WaterWise from in-field based canopy sensors to drone or satellite-derived data. Goanna Ag expects the current system to be commercially available in time for the 2020 summer cropping season.

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