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ALECAIA newsletter: Irrigation in Agriculture

Newsletter-ul Alecaia are rolul de a prezenta noi tehnologii digitale și alte inovații aplicabile în domeniul agriculturii. În acest articol sunt prezentate aplicații noi pentru sisteme de irigare, în contextul în care România are sub 1 mil. ha de terenuri irigate.

Tehnologiile prezentate au fost dezvoltate în zone aride din Israel, și au fost selectate pentru că vin cu inovații ce reduc pierderile de apă și automatizează gestionarea sistemului, crescând astfel profitul și nivelul de sustenabilitate.

Viridix este un sistem automatizat care integrează date de climă și mediu cu o rețea de senzori de umiditate ai solului instalați pe câmp. Senzorii sunt construiți să fie doar „plantați”, fără să fie nevoie de întreținere. Datele sunt procesate de un sistem cu inteligență artificială care informează sistemul de irigare.

Autonomous Pivot este gândit pentru sistemele de irigare de tip pivot (central). Această tehnologie măsoară umiditatea solului folosind un radar și monitorizează simptomele plantelor, ambele producând rezultate în urma unor analize prin sistem cu inteligență artificială.

Tevatronic vine cu rețele de senzori fără fir ce măsoară umiditatea, temperatura și tensiunea superficială a lichidelor, permițând agricultorilor, horticultorilor și pomicultorilor să optimizeze consumul în mod manual sau automat.

DriftSense, ultima tehnologie din listă, nu este o aplicație pentru irigații, ci pentru aplicarea inteligentă a pesticidelor. Acest sistem analizează și optimizează în timp real dispersia pesticidelor în funcție de particularitățile parcelei și de condițiile de mediu și lucru, aducând economii de substanțe și reducând poluarea.

Mai jos, newsletter-ul original continuă în limba engleză.

Due to the very bad drought this year in Romania, this newsletter will focus on irrigation technologies and start-ups active in this domain. Irrigation has already been known to the Egyptians thanks to the Nile River some 5’000 years ago.

The general problem is delivering water to an area where plants are grown with (temporary) low natural rainfall. An irrigation system can help by delivering water where it is needed for agriculture and gardening. It is very important to get as much water as possible to the plant or into the soil. However, water loss can be as high as 50%. Thus, it is crucial to get the right technology to save water and costs.

 In Romania, less than 1 Mio hectares of land are irrigated, out of the 8.5 Mio hectares of arable land.

Hereinafter, a few start-ups have been identified, which are bringing new technologies to the market in the precision irrigation domain aiming to increase the farmer’s profitability by optimising water usage, decreasing maintenance cost and freeing up time to devote to other tasks due to automation.

These technologies can also be interesting to input providers and grain originators in order to help maintain more stable crops. It can be delivered to farmers as an additional service, increasing loyalty and trust between partners, while helping to mitigate risks and keeping yields at the desired levels.

Viridix, Israel:

By combining accurate and timely water potential data with additional information such as weather, irrigation protocols and soil characteristics, Viridix simplifies and automates one of the most important activities in farming – optimal irrigation to increase productivity, reduce resources and improve sustainability.

Their technology called RooTense requires no maintenance and is easy to use. It’s an IoT (Internet of Things – many connected devices) based solution that is using AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning (computer algorithms automatically improving through experience) to deliver precision irrigation with the ability to automate the full irrigation cycle.

Their patent pending sensor that requires no maintenance or calibration, measures the water potential, meaning the available water to the roots with the specific conditions in the soil at the moment (soil content, water conditions, temperature etc.). The collected data is sent to a cloud, where it is stored and provides real-time feedback.

Autonomous Pivot, Israel:

Feeding a 9-Billion-person planet is estimated to require a 60% increase in agricultural production with a simultaneous 15% decrease in water usage. Growers are experiencing low farm profitability levels and must minimise input costs and maximise effectiveness of inputs.

Autonomous Pivot wants to enable farmers to maximise yield and reduce costs by turning center-pivot irrigation systems (see pictures below) into robotic platforms for autonomous irrigation, fertigation, and crop protection. It uses the world’s first on-pivot Ground Penetrating Radar for continuous, non-invasive sensing of soil water content, together with deep learning and AI (Artificial Intelligence) agronomist technologies. The technology automates symptom detections (to see if the plant has some deficiencies), AI agronomist planning and other autonomous actions.

Some of the key challenges include reliable soil moisture data, reliable nitrogen level data, level of autonomy and keeping the system cost low at around USD 2’000.

Their solution:

200 soil moisture sample points at the price of one soil sensor as opposed to current providers offering only single point soil moisture sensors while a particular field can vary a lot within its parameter.

Center pivots dominate the pressure irrigation systems and the market is expected to grow substantially over the next years.

Tevatronic, Israel:

Tevatronic helps farmers with the most complex daily task, trying to adjust irrigation in order to keep high productivity while optimising water usage. Decision support system includes wireless tensiometers (instrument used to measure the surface tension of liquids or surfaces) and air & soil temperature and humidity sensors. Farmers can adjust irrigation amounts and timing based on real-time data from fields or greenhouses. The system is capable of deciding when and how much to irrigate. Can execute the irrigation decision without human intervention. Suitable for irrigation and fertilization control for most plant varieties growing in open fields, orchards or greenhouses.

DriftSense, Israel:

The last start-up presented here is DriftSense active in a different area – minimising pesticide drift.

Pesticide application is necessary but inaccurate. In average, over 75% of pesticides sprayed are lost to the air (USD 12 Billion annual loss by drift in USA), creating airborne hazardous drift severely damaging humans & animals, crops and environment. Main cause is suboptimal timing, not taking into consideration current local meteorological conditions, exact chemical properties of substances used, and regulatory limitations resulting in lower yields, wasted manpower, growing pest resistance, misused resources and exposure to regulatory actions.

Their solution to avoid this is based on state-of-the-art technologies in analytical chemistry, meteorological  and dispersion modeling. The system accumulates historical plot-specific data to build a dynamic plot profile predicting accurate timing recommendations for spraying of each plot in order to maximise accuracy and efficiency. Focus is on drift rather than plant or pest and considering all factors affecting it.

For most of the above technologies, the cost is not a huge issue as the business model is Software as a Service (SaaS) starting annually at around USD 2’000 and the savings should definitely surpass the cost.

Please excuse the technical nature of the above descriptions, with which agronomists are more at ease than the rest of us but it is, nevertheless, a topic of rising importance in view of the growing population and the stagnant amount of arable land that can be beneficial from an economic and sustainability standpoint and can be adding value to the functions and tasks of agricultural companies.

In case of any questions or comments, please reach out.

Autonomous Pivot System installed on an irrigation system: