Modelling project makes variable rate irrigation easier to adopt

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For anyone that has tackled variable rate irrigation (VRI) before, they know there can be a lot of challenges. There’s a lot of decision making — we need to know what’s happening, and what’s going to happen.

Lewis Baarda, research program manager at Farming Smarter, based at Lethbridge, Alta., says this is why the non-for-profit organization wanted to build a decision support tool when it comes to VRI.

“Putting the sensors in the ground is great, but we wanted to connect them to all the models, what’s happening, and build a recommendation that farmers can open up their phone, see the recommendation, and decide what to irrigate,” he explains.

VRI irrigation management can get tricky, due to the amount of different zones, soil type, topography across the field, etc. The hope, says Baarda, is that farmers will be able to use VRI to its maximum potential — especially as we look to make the most of our water resources — and see it less as the headache that it can be. (Story continues below interview)

So in response, Farming Smarter came up with a model that integrates all the irrigation management data together, to offer the most practical prescription.

“We’ve got soil moisture sensors, we’ve got weather forecasts that we can bring in, crop ET curves that we can bring in. That tells us what’s happening right now, and what’s going to happen in the next little bit,” Baarda explains. “And then behind the scenes, we’re massaging all that data — we’re putting it together, and putting it in a software platform that farmers can open up, and actually have recommendations.”

If it’s a variable rate field you are looking at, things can especially get tricky, as the average for a pivot is three or four zones. Which as Baarda notes, means you are putting that data in three or four different times.

“We’re trying to put that together in a nice package, a tool that would do all that for you. And you just have to say yes or no, and plug in that information to control the pivot,” he says.

So far, this project has been worked on for the past 18 months, and they are currently looking at what the next steps will be for this kind of research.  Before they release to market, they would like to deploy it in a few different environments to learn more about what could go wrong in different scenarios, and improve functionality. However, the goal is within the next few years for producers to have access.

See more coverage of the Irrigated Crop Production Update event here

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