HorticultureResearchTechnology

Dealing with Drought

Jeana Cadby

The global water shortage has inspired fast action towards sustainable water usage, especially within the agricultural sector. As one of the biggest users of water worldwide, agriculture is especially vulnerable to drought and extreme weather conditions. In addition to unpredictable water quality and availability, farmers around the world are feeling pressured to reduce water usage while simultaneously increasing irrigation efficiency.

Pioneering water efficiency technology can be an incredibly complicated task, opening up the door for a multitude of approaches to solve the same puzzle. Agricultural technology companies in Canada, such as Hortau and Frontier Agri-Science, have taken a proactive approach to addressing water use efficiency in agriculture. Using advanced algorithms, processed data produces efficient mechanisms for understanding the wealth of information that is gathered with the latest technology. Through biotechnology and advanced data collection and analysis, farmers are able to incorporate cutting edge water-saving technology into existing systems. Such advancements in data-based systems have provided applications for utilizing collected information, while offering a service to farmers that benefits their bottom line as well as water conservation.

Irregular water availability due to prolonged low rainfall periods have provided farmers with little room for error when calculating irrigation applications.

Irregular water availability due to prolonged low rainfall periods have provided farmers with little room for error when calculating irrigation applications.

In the current climate of water quantity and quality, it is time for a systematic upgrade. Many agricultural crops are sensitive to drought and water shortages, and farmers can face dramatically decreased yield due to induced plant stress. While soil moisture and transpiration loss determinations have always played a role in predicting crop water needs, these methods may not necessarily be delivering high water use efficiency forecasts. Canadian based company Hortau provides farmers with irrigation management services using data-based precision application calculations via field-based sensors. The cloud-based platform is retrofit-able for any size farm, providing the benefit of customization based on specific farmer needs.

Through wireless irrigation technology using cloud-based software, farmers can identify regions undergoing plant stress in real time. Soil probes distributed around the farm collect soil moisture data to anticipate plant stress and maximize photosynthesis, which increases yield as well as water use efficiency. Systems are personalized and wireless, allowing for customizable remote control over irrigation equipment. Farmers also have the option to initiate irrigation through regular scheduling, or automatic pre-set triggers based on sensor readings.

Irregular water availability due to prolonged low rainfall periods have provided farmers with little room for error when calculating irrigation applications. Hortau takes the guesswork out of agricultural irrigation using direct measurements of soil tension. Users who seek to understand detailed crop needs within a diverse farming system are able to make educated decisions regarding irrigation applications. Farmers are also informed of predicted weather patterns, which may encourage them to take specific action depending on upcoming precipitation or wind forecasts. Customized sensors may contain two to eight different sensor types, all feeding information to a centralized system. Remote access to the data also allows users simple and rapid access to review calculations for maximized water efficiency.

Biotechnology options also present a viable solution to tackle potential drought conditions. Frontier Agri-Science is a Canadian agricultural biotechnology company focused on developing genetic technologies that optimize crop yield, while using less water. With a major focus on corn and wheat, improving water and nutrient use efficiency supports farmers in reaching their efficiency goals. Offering non-GMO crop development also promises less expensive commercialization, which can provide a larger diversity of farmers with a wider variety of crop options.

Through wireless irrigation technology using cloud-based software, farmers can identify regions undergoing plant stress in real time.

Through wireless irrigation technology using cloud-based software, farmers can identify regions undergoing plant stress in real time.

Through advanced gene sequencing and mutant screening, Frontier Agri-Science essentially winning at a microscopic level game of hide-and-seek. After finding the molecular mechanisms in plants that control drought tolerance, researchers now understand how the interactions of plant hormones can increase crop tolerance to reduced moisture availability. Algorithmic sequencing provides an efficient identification system for plant varieties with the optimal genetics for potential agricultural applications. Their current projects provide up to 50% increase in water use efficiency for specific plants, with plans to expand to more crops.

Equipping farmers with water-efficient crops is a great step towards achieving agricultural water efficiency. With so many factors to consider, solutions must navigate how to provide farmer-friendly, reliable, and economical choices, while maintaining an efficient outcome for sustainability. Improved crop varieties have traditionally been a readily adoptable approach for changing agricultural needs. Implementing a faster and more accurate tool for plant identification is a welcome addition to the scene.

In the changing landscape of global water systems and overall water supply farmers must think ahead regarding what investments they need to make in order to maximize efficiency for their farm. The latest data-based agricultural technology offers a variety of options for farmers around the world. While controlling impending drought conditions and unpredictable weather may not be an option, taking reigns on dealing with water stress is certainly achievable, given a little help from our data-savvy friends.

Resources:

https://hortau.com/project/how-the-hortau-system-works/

https://www.frontieragri.science/fas/

Jeana Cadby

Jeana Cadby is a science writer and doctoral candidate studying sustainable agriculture. Her background includes a bachelor’s and master’s degree in plant and soil sciences, and she works in STEM education. An agricultural advocate and a food lover—she also enjoys rock climbing and reading books.
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