An app designed to manage irrigation systems will go into beta testing this spring with citrus growers and later this year with strawberry growers. Built by University of Florida researchers with funding from the U.S. Agriculture Department, the tools will be available in versions for both iPhone and Android-based systems.
Once released, the apps will be available through Google Play and Apple stores at no cost. That may change after the USDA development grant runs out, says Clyde Fraisse, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the university's Gainesville campus.
Supporting information for the apps will be available at the Florida Automated Weather Network (fawn.ifas.ufl.edu) and AgroClimate (agroclimate.org) websites.
"We're trying to translate weather and climate information into something useful for producers," Fraisse says.
Fraisse developed the strawberry irrigation app, as well as Web-based climate information systems for growers. So far, he's seen nothing else comparable for mobile applications.
Kelly Morgan, associate professor of soil and water science at the university's Southwest Florida research lab in Immokalee, expects his app for citrus growers to be ready for use this May.
"There's great interest, especially in citrus, for irrigation scheduling," he says. The smartphone app builds on an earlier PC-focused tool available on FAWN, untethers it for greater mobility and flexibility, and simplifies it to a one-button access.
"I see it as the first in a system of tools to help growers," Morgan says. Other possibilities include fertilizer calculators and guides for insect and disease control.
The USDA grant covered development costs for four crops: strawberries, citrus, cotton and turfgrass.
Growing smarter with strawberries
The strawberry irrigation app focuses only on drip irrigation systems paired with plastic mulch, Fraisse says.
Users set up parameters once for a field, including row spacing, irrigation system output and efficiency, and planting and estimated harvest dates. That information is stored under the user's registration for future use, allowing for a quick check of the latest irrigation recommendations every time the app is accessed.
The app combines field and system information with data from the nearest FAWN weather station to calculate evapotranspiration and the crop's water needs. From there, the tool provides the recommended hours of irrigation needed, Fraisse says.