What will drive the next innovations in agricultural water technology? The February issue of Soy Perspectives highlights three individuals whose personal experiences drove them to develop new solutions to manage water more efficiently now and in the future. 

When “Life-Giving” River Runs Dry

Iran’s Zayandeh-Rood river may literally mean ‘life-giving,’ but its lower reaches began drying up decades ago due to years of mismanagement and overuse. One river section flowed through Esfahani, hometown of Amin Afzal, who later led a group of Pennsylvania State University researchers working on a breakthrough moisture sensor.

“The river had a large impact on our society and the economy of the region. The struggles farmers faced after it started drying up have definitely motivated my research in significant ways,” Afzal said.

After initially trying to perfect a soil moisture measurement tool, he turned his focus to the plant itself. The clip-on leaf sensor being developed by the team at Penn State provides considerably more accurate measurements than traditional methods.

“Most irrigation today is based on calendar schedules, transpiration calculations or soil moisture measurements,” according to Afzal. “The sensor provides a more accurate understanding of what’s going on within the plant itself because it measures both the thickness and electrical capacitance of a leaf, the most responsive part of the plant for measuring water content variations.”

By attaching directly to the leaf, the sensor also avoids the common challenges associated with removing leaves from their environment for lab analysis. While the Penn State research currently focuses on tomato plants, Afzal anticipates the sensor will ultimately help pinpoint the irrigation needs of a wide variety of crops with much greater accuracy.

Great-Grandfather Knows Best 

Closer to home, Corey Getz, CEO of DIGS Associates, Moweaqua, Illinois, also draws inspiration from past experiences. In his case, however, he points to the forward-thinking mindset of an ancestor.

“My great-grandfather started a tiling business in the 1970s that used lasers to do most of their measurements,” said Getz. “At the time, many found it silly, saying it would never work. But all laser use has done since then is make everyone’s life easier.”

An unwillingness to settle for status quo solutions to drainage water management motivated Getz and his partner, Quint Shambaugh, to start their own DWM consulting business in 2016.

“The drainage tile business was essentially a handshake agreement business,” said Getz. “There was no set way to develop plans for engineering, so essentially what DIGS does is bring large watersheds together, representing every landowner within that watershed.”

To move from handshakes to high-tech, they developed and implemented an innovative watershed mapping tool. Within a matter of minutes, their patent-pending software can pull topographic data to identify location of outlets, ownership of the land involved and the exact watershed to the acre. The technology allows DIGS Associates to focus at the watershed level rather than the independent farmer level, working with neighboring landowners to find the most equitable, efficient way to drain fields.

Bringing ERP to H2O

Kevin France, CEO of SWIIM System, has a passion for having his company become “the CPA for agricultural water rights” by adopting Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) practices which allow diverse business data to be collected, interpreted and managed together.  His focus is on areas where renewable water faces increased scrutiny and pressure.

“Especially in the irrigated West, growers and their respective water districts are being forced to justify their water use to a granular degree,” said France. “Currently, many are performing water management in an archaic form, such as using a water meter that may or may not be calibrated. No one has yet brought it into a full-service ERP platform.”

Providing that platform has led Forbes to twice identify SWIIM as one of the top 25 ag tech companies globally.

“The ERP platform allows growers to make intelligent water decisions and water districts can allocate based on delivery and consumption,” added France. “You need to consider both because it’s like balancing a checkbook. One of the ultimate deliverables we provide is an audited report—the same way you would get a statement of financial accounts from your CPA.”

What’s Next? 

With water scarcity becoming an increasingly serious global issue, the need will continue for highly driven, personally motivated innovators in water technology.

Read the rest of the article here.

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