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How IoT and smart irrigation are improving water conservation

By Max Burkhalter
July 23, 2019

Internet of things technologies are quickly becoming a staple in the agriculture industry, as more large-scale farming operations are seeking to optimize their practices and reduce water waste. According to the World Bank, around 70% of the world's freshwater is used for agriculture, though this may not be enough to sustain the rapidly expanding population in the years to come. In fact, it's estimated that agricultural production will need to increase by 50% and water withdrawals by 15% by 2050 to keep pace with growing food demands. However, recent innovations in smart irrigation have provided farmers with more effective water management tools that may help maximize efficiency and minimize overwatering.

What is smart irrigation?
Generally speaking, smart irrigation refers to the implementation of advanced technologies and connectivity equipment to monitor, analyze and control outdoor water usage. In most cases, this involves the installation of "smart controllers" which can automatically adjust irrigation applications to suit weather and soil conditions. These control systems are often supplemented with machine-to-machine communication, artificial intelligence and machine-learning applications that allow for more precise management of irrigation scheduling. According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, most smart irrigation technologies fall under two classifications:

  • Sensor-based control: This method leverages real-time measurements from locally installed sensors to automatically adjust irrigation timing to the exact temperature, rainfall, humidity and soil moisture present in a given environment. This data is also supplemented with historic weather information to ensure farmers are able to anticipate unfavorable conditions.
  • Signal-based control: Unlike sensor-based controls, these smart irrigation systems rely on weather updates transmitted by radio, telephone or web-based applications. These signals are typically sent from local weather stations to update the "evapotranspiration rate" of the irrigation controller.

Although analog irrigation systems have been used in commercial agriculture for some time, nearly all traditional applications operate on pre-programmed schedules and timers. This often leaves farmers unprepared for sudden weather changes and can lead to significant overwatering and waste. Modern smart irrigation systems are equipped with self-governing capabilities that result in more precise watering schedules that reflect the actual conditions of the grow site.

Irrigation system waters cropsSmart irrigation can help farmers improve the accuracy and sustainability of their agricultural practices.

Surveying the smart irrigation market
Most cutting-edge smart irrigation applications combine a range of specialized hardware, software and management platforms to collect, store and analyze environmental data. According to a 2018 report compiled by MarketsandMarkets, the smart irrigation market was valued at $696.2 million in 2017 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16.30% over the following six years. The primary drivers of this market expansion include:

  • The emergence of IoT technologies and the convergence of advanced management capabilities.
  • Increasing government and non-profit initiatives aimed at water conservation.
  • Smart city innovation and the need for efficient irrigation control systems.

Of course, effectively managing large-scale water usage requires significant infrastructural investment and reliable networking tools, as connectivity issues could negatively impact the health of crops and the accuracy of real-time data. Luckily, Perle offers high-performance networking equipment that can help food growers keep track of local weather conditions. Our industrial-grade Ethernet Switches and Console Servers are secure and reliable, allowing agricultural experts to focus on what really matters: farming innovation. Read some of our customer stories to find out more.


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