New tool helps manage water

By Country News

There are hopes a new soil and data tool will save farmers hundreds of thousands of dollars by linking costs to soil moisture and climate data.

Currently being developed by the University of South Australia’s Business School, the tool aims to use soil moisture data to help farmers know where to apply water to avoid waste and save costs and integrate climate, business and accounting data to demonstrate how to facilitate a better understanding of trends, forecasts and savings on-farm.

Working in partnership with Sentek Pty Ltd and growing partners, the university has collected multiple seasons of sensing and accounting data, which is now being fed into prototype software.

Discussions with more than 100 farmers during pilot research found more than 50 per cent have demand for cost-linked water tools as a way to help production decision-making.

Through developing the tool initially for potato growing, it was found total water-related costs could be much higher than expected once hidden costs, such as farmer time and water quality treatment, were factored in.

UniSA Business School researcher Joanne Tingey-Holyoak said the need for better-informed agricultural water decision-making had never been greater.

‘‘During our study, we found that plant stress and soil disease conditions were unable to be visually detected, potentially wasting growers thousands of dollars on yield,’’ Dr Tingey-Holyoak said.

‘‘Without linked sensing and costing information, it’s not possible to tell the precise point where plants are not getting the water they require and integrating yield outcomes.

‘‘So the aim of this tool is to alert growers to what is happening in the soil and plant climate during and between irrigations, what their cost is, and what the cost is of waiting for conditions to change.’’

It was found that the costs of being unaware of circumstances, such as crop stress, disease conditions and irrigation ineffectiveness, could be significant.

Stress and disease can be unobservable to even the most experienced producer until damage is done, significantly reducing yield or quality or both.

Through developing a tool that can inform growers about trends towards stress or disease condition events and linking costs of treatments and alternative actions, such as cost of irrigating to cool soil below a certain temperature, researchers believe the tool has the ability to potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars.