Smartphone apps help manage irrigation systems

05/07/2013 03:21:00 PM
Renee Stern

Growers have been relying on educated guesses based on visual cues, past experience and perhaps tools such as soil-moisture sensors. "I suspect in the beginning of the season (many) over-irrigate," he says.

For now, irrigation isn't a major cost for strawberry growers.

But that may change, given changing weather patterns and growing competition for water. "We're going to have to get more serious about water in this state," Morgan says.

Making irrigation management more efficient also provides cost benefits, he says. Some growers have switched over to automated systems that are run from a computer screen, but far more drive from one citrus grove to another to start pumps manually.

There’s an app for citrus, too

The citrus app also takes into account how much water a grower's irrigation system puts out—combined with tree age, row and tree spacing, weather conditions and similar factors—to calculate the needed running time.

One of the main challenges to building the smart irrigation tools was reducing their scope to only the most necessary and useful data. "A phone screen can't accommodate too much," Fraisse says.

Keep it simple and don't overwhelm users were guiding principles, he says.

Topping the list, however, is involving growers during development and testing to determine exactly what features they need and how they'll use the apps, he says.

One-button access will make the irrigation app a useful tool, says Barry Daniels, citrus production manager for Heller Bros. Packing Corp. in Winter Garden. Just as growers now check the weather forecast when they wake up, they'll also be able to get a look at the day's irrigation recommendations.

Making features as customizable as possible also is important. "Tree spacing is variable and affects irrigation scheduling and patterns," he says.

Daniels now uses FAWN's online recommendations as a base, adjusting them to take into account his own experiences with the company's groves and soil types.

"It works well except in the spring when it's dry," he says. Chris Neuhofer, irrigation supervisor for Orange-Co in Arcadia, says he and his company are intent on "using the tools that technology offers to manage resources in the best way possible."

Currently Orange-Co relies on soil-moisture sensors placed throughout the company's groves to schedule irrigation runs.

Neuhofer also is working with Morgan on a comparison study of the company's site-specific irrigation program and FAWN's recommendations.

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