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  • Final Report Summary - EFFIDRIP (Enabling next generation commercial service-oriented, automatic irrigation management systems for high efficient use of water, fertilizers and energy in drip irrigated tree crops.)
FP7

EFFIDRIP Report Summary

Project ID: 286807
Funded under: FP7-SME
Country: Spain

Final Report Summary - EFFIDRIP (Enabling next generation commercial service-oriented, automatic irrigation management systems for high efficient use of water, fertilizers and energy in drip irrigated tree crops.)

Executive Summary:
EFFIDRIP is an ICT-based tool for supporting the management and supervision of irrigation and fertigation. In particular, it has been conceived for localized irrigation systems in tree crops and its use can be extended to other situations. EFFIDRIP has been developed by a consortium of organizations including farmer and industry associations, companies within the irrigation sector, research institutes and technological centres, and it was co-funded by the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme. Working together since January 2012, the cooperation between these organizations has resulted in a cost-effective tool that provides the end-users (farmers or technicians) effortless irrigation and fertilization management with increased efficiencies, as well as easy and reliable supervision of the state of the irrigation system. EFFIDRIP aims at relieving farmers from most of the tasks involved in acquiring data, re-scheduling, reprogramming and supervising the application of efficient irrigation. Communication between EFFIDRIP and the farmers occurs via a PC or a mobile device screen showing the current status and progress of the system, including possible issues or failures that require action by the user.
The EFFIDRIP system complements the functionalities of current irrigation and fertigation control equipment by making them part of a higher level system based on ICT. The role of that high level system is the integration of data and information from multiple sources for their usage in automated scheduling decisions and supervision. In addition, it also facilitates user interaction with the system and communication between people involved in the process. Commercial irrigation controllers as those currently in the market remains as a key component for the execution of irrigation and fertigation schedules with some autonomy. What really makes the difference is that the irrigation schedules executed by the controller are automatically updated once a day for each irrigation sector. The precise crop water and fertilizer needs at each sector and day are estimated by EFFIDRIP as a function of weather conditions, the soil and crop water status assessed by sensors, as well as to the productive and environmental goals by the farmer. Machine-to-machine communications and design of the application reduce the need for user intervention in day to day operational tasks so that the user can focus on strategic decisions.
The EFFIDRIP system was tested at three pilot sites: one in Spain (Mollerussa), one in Portugal (Serpa), and one in Greece (Drepano). The results showed that in all three cases EFFIDRIP delivered a seasonal volume of irrigation within the range expected from FAO recommendations. The results from Mollerussa indicated an increase of 48% in water productivity by young apples from 7 kg/m3 by local farmers to 10.4 kg/m3 by EFFIDRIP. In Serpa (olive grove) EFFIDRIP applied 65% less water than the farmer and in Drepano (citrus orchard) it applied 47% more water due to the severe deficit irrigation applied by the farmer. Yield could not be measured in Serpa and Drepano but visual inspection of the trees indicated that there were no substantial differences. Estimation of N leaching in the conditions of the Mollerussa test site, indicated an annual leaching of nitrate in the EFFIDRIP treatment of 19 kg/ha/year whereas it was estimated to be a factor of 2.5 larger for the typical irrigation and fertilization management by local farmers.
During the entire project duration dissemination activities were carried out by project partners to promote EFFIDRIP and present the project progress and results to farmers, industry, scientific community and general public. The participating associations played a major role in reaching the farmers and industry through their network of contacts and members while the research organizations focused on effective dissemination though conferences and publications in scientific journals. Both the agricultural associations and SMEs participating in EFFIDRIP expect significant economic benefits from the exploitation of the results achieved in the project.

Project Context and Objectives:
Drip irrigation is the most widespread technology for irrigating and fertigating fruit tree crops because of its high efficiency. However, the benefits of drip irrigation are often lost due to inadequate management practices leading to excessive use of water, fertilisers and, indirectly, energy. Precise irrigation aims at efficient management of a large number of small irrigation units. Its practical application requires support from Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to simplify the tasks and intricacies underlying field data acquisition and usage in scheduling and supervising irrigation. Thus, adoption of precise irrigation by farmers depends on providing them with effective but easy to use ICT platforms. The overall objective of EFFIDRIP project was to offer a cost-effective tool that provides the end-users (farmers or technicians) effortless irrigation and fertilization management, as well as easy and reliable supervision of the state of the irrigation system. EFFIDRIP aims at relieving farmers from most of the tasks involved in acquiring data, re-scheduling, reprogramming and supervising the application of efficient irrigation. Though several tools have been described for planning or automating irrigation scheduling, two aspects distinguish EFFIDRIP from these existing tools. First, it directly addresses the use of wireless sensor networks complemented with a water balance approach, which provides a proven basis for accommodating the existing knowledge for estimating the irrigation needs by crops. Second, the scope of drip irrigation in open field horticultural crops has seldom been the main focus. Instead, most of the existing tools are rather broad and oversimplify relevant processes specific of this context.
The EFFIDRIP system complements the functionalities of current irrigation and fertigation control equipment by making them part of a higher level system based on ICT. The role of that high level system is the integration of data and information from multiple sources for their usage in automated scheduling decisions and supervision. It can also facilitate user interaction with the system and communication between people involved in the process.
By providing the keys for efficiently automating the field data acquisition, decision making and control processes, equipment manufacturers and service providers will be able to rapidly develop and commercialize EFFIDRIP. This will then provide a new tool that will permit fruit farmers and agro SMEs to increase water, fertilizer and energy use efficiency by up to 15%, representing a significant reduction of production costs. It will relieve them of routine tasks required for efficient irrigation practices, thus gaining time for higher-value management tasks. And it will facilitate the adoption of more sustainable practices. Given the increasing importance of sustainability in agriculture and the business opportunity to modernize within the context of the generational shift towards more industrial production models, both European agricultural and irrigation sector, as well as our environment, will benefit from the EFFIDRIP precision irrigation system.

Project Results:
EFFIDRIP has been developed by a consortium of organizations including farmer and industry associations, companies within the irrigation sector, research institutes and technological centres, and has been co-funded by the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme. The project partners included: the agricultural associations EASA (Greece) and COTR (Portugal), the industry associations AFRE (Spain) and AQUA ESPAÑA (Spain), the technology manufacturers MACRAUT (Spain), MCBURNEY Scientific (UK) and GEOMATIONS (Greece), the agro-service provider HUBEL VERDE (Portugal) and the farmer Evangelos Papandrianos (Greece). The R&D and demonstration activities were performed by the R&D company Ateknea (formerly known as CRIC, Spain) and research institutes IRTA (Spain), and Alterra (the Netherlands).
Working together since January 2012, the cooperation between these organizations has resulted in the achievement of the major objectives of the project.
The following main scientific and technological results have been achieved, and are briefly described below.
• EFFIDRIP system architecture
• Definition of the scientific-agronomical basis
• The general, context-adaptable irrigation scheduling algorithm
• The algorithms for extracting key pieces of information from raw data
• The algorithms for automated supervision
• The FUSSIM3D model
• Simulation of optimized fertigation strategies
• Optimization of fertigation strategies
• The wireless monitoring network
• Study of radiofrequency signals propagation in tree crops
• The EFFIDRIP software application
• EFFIDRIP field tests

EFFIDRIP system architecture
First an analysis of requirements and main functionalities was performed considering restrictions, limitations and user profiles and a set of use cases was established which allowed designing a suitable system architecture. The EFFIDRIP system consists of two main entities named Data acquisition and Control System (DCS) and Automated Fertigation and Irrigation Scheduler (AFIS). The DCS consists of a set of devices whose purpose is to collect measurements from field sensors such as soil moisture sensors and water meters and to transmit them to the AFIS through the mobile network by means of the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). The overall functionality of the AFIS, which consists basically of software, is storing and processing the data from the DCS and from external weather sources, automatically producing a daily irrigation schedule for each sector, and warning the user on malfunctions or other abnormal situations detected by the system. The interface between EFFIDRIP and the user is a web application that can be accessed through the internet, by which the user can easily manage and supervise the irrigation and fertigation with emphasis on a seasonal perspective.

Definition of the scientific-agronomical basis
IRTA performed a review of the state of the art regarding the scientific basis underlying water requirements by crops and the main approaches for deciding how much and when to irrigate. The crop water balance approach is the most widely used method, and provides an effective solution for dealing with the effect of weather conditions. However, the application of this method to horticultural crops requires taking into account additional factors, such as the structure of the canopy, transpiration needs related with fruit load as well as the seasonal sensitivity of yield to water deficit. Usage of sensors in irrigation control has sometimes been considered an alternative to the water balance approach, though they are rather complementary and the combination of both approaches has several advantages. The focus on localized irrigation implies revising the particular dynamics of soil water under such conditions, which is dominated by the development of wet bulbs below the emitters. This has consequences on both how to use and interpret soil sensors as well as on the basic rules for deciding when and how much to irrigate.

The general, context-adaptable irrigation scheduling algorithm
The state of the art study highlighted the importance of contextualizing any scheduling algorithm within a well-defined seasonal strategy. Consequently, the design of EFFIDRIP had to consider two main stages in the whole process: first the elaboration of a seasonal plan and second the automated control of irrigation responding to the encountered conditions but within the limits accorded in the plan. The Seasonal Plan then appeared as a key artefact for specifying how the EFFIDRIP system had to conduct irrigation in a particular case. In particular, it specifies the range of acceptable irrigation water use along the season and the allowed range of response to sensors. In order to facilitate the elaboration of a Seasonal Plan tailored to each case, the platform is equipped with the Irrigation Assistant, a tool that asks the user simple questions about the crop, its calendar, the soil and the irrigation setup and complements these with further data supplied by the platform.
The core of the scheduling process is the determination of daily irrigation doses. Based on previous experiences at IRTA, this is approached through a combination of a daily estimation of irrigation needs based on ETo and tuned by feedback from the sensors. In particular, the daily irrigation dose (DID) is determined as DID = ETo * Kx, where ETo is the reference evapotranspiration obtained from updated weather data and Kx is a coefficient, initialized as the crop coefficient for that crop and later on, tuned by the algorithm. The mechanism for tuning Kx consists of an iterative adjustment dependent on two aspects. First, the fitness of previous irrigation doses, qualified from the trend of soil water content as either under-irrigation, fit or over-irrigation. Second, it also takes into account the projection of the current irrigation regime until the end of the season, evaluating whether it would comply with the Seasonal Plan. Fuzzy logics and fuzzy control provided a formal basis for assessing these two aspects and for specifying their combined response by the tuning mechanism.

The algorithms for extracting key pieces of information from raw data
This refers mostly to the automated interpretation of sensor data, which is necessary because the information required for controlling irrigation is not directly measured by any sensor but derived from a non-trivial analysis. Here, the work mostly focused on soil water sensors, whose interpretation was aimed at assessing the daily balance between localized irrigation and crop water needs. The designed solution looks at several features in the daily pattern of the sensor output and uses fuzzy logics to rate the fitness of irrigation as well as the likelihood that different events had happened –e.g. rain, sensor failure, etc. Data from water meters are also analysed, aiming at confirming the execution of the scheduled irrigation and detecting any malfunction of the irrigation setup.
Regarding weather data, the backend of EFFIDRIP is equipped with equations for calculating the reference evapotranspiration (ETo) from primary data. The Penman-Monteith equation is intended for the regular calculation of ETo from data imported from an external service, while the Hargreaves equation is intended for cases where such services are not available and ETo can be estimated from a single air temperature sensor connected to EFFIDRIP.

The algorithms for automated supervision
The goal of this part was to devise the appropriate mechanisms for facilitating the management of a large number of irrigation sectors with the minimum effort by the user and ensuring the robustness of the irrigation control system. Regarding robustness, the design of EFFIDRIP combined diverse approaches to provide fault tolerance and resilience in front of contingencies. These include several mechanisms working behind the scenes, transparent to the user, such as the automated detection of rain, sensor failures and malfunctions of the irrigation setup. If detected, the system triggers the execution of predefined reactions. For instance, suppressing irrigation in case of rain and discarding suspicious sensors for control decisions and warning the user in case of failures. To facilitate supervision by the user, the Seasonal Plan arose as a useful device here as well. Thanks to that, the system can easily check whether a given irrigation sector is progressing within the expected range. Those cases that challenge the limits indicated in the Seasonal Plan are identified and the attention of the user is called upon them. The idea is that the user does not have to watch and analyse a large amount of data for assessing whether his/her irrigation sectors are progressing as expected. Instead, the user is offered a top-down vision drawing his/her attention to those issues that the system has identified as most relevant.

The FUSSIM3D model
The ultimate purpose of the EFFIDRIP concept is to optimize irrigation schedules for particular situations, taking into account soil properties and the configuration of the irrigation setup. A new aspect in the EFFIDRIP approach is the postulation that information on the dynamics of water and nutrients in the soil is relevant for irrigation management. Obviously, the dynamics will greatly depend on the interactions between crop demand, as function of crop type and climate, soil types, and emitter configurations and properties.
The dynamics determine the availability of water and nutrients for uptake from the rooted zone, but also the leaching of water and nutrients at the bottom of the rooted zone.
The major achievement here was the development of a three-dimensional simulation model for water movement, nutrient transport and root uptake of water and nutrients applicable to drip-fertigated crops (FUSSIM3D). This is an extended version of an existing two-dimensional model developed by ALTERRA.

Simulation of optimized fertigation strategies
ALTERRA with the contribution of IRTA, EASA, COTR and other partners, set up a database with various combinations of soil types, emitter discharges and configurations, and climatological conditions. The following characteristic factors were considered: five HYPRES soil types, three emitter discharge rates, one or two drip lines per row of trees, four amounts of irrigation application, two start times of irrigation, and two concentrations of the fertigation water.
All combinations (480 in total) were considered and simulations for nine-day period were carried out. The same combinations were also simulated for different rooting systems and root water uptake models. For all simulations, the basic mass balance components for the total soil profile, the root zone, and some small volume of soil underneath the dripper were collected and put into a database for further use by the EFFIDRIP software.

Optimization of fertigation strategies
A literature study was performed to reveal large differences in water and nitrogen (N) use in fertigated orange production. The FUSSIM3D model was coupled to the FAO crop model AquaCrop, parameterized for oranges. Using the combined model ALTERRA investigated the possibilities, limitations and effects of different fertigation strategies in search of good fertigation practices and management. Different amounts of water supply, total N supply and fractionation of N supply divided over three periods during the growing season were considered. The fertigation strategies were judged based on the resulting yield and estimated amounts of N losses (denitrification, leaching). Overall, it is smart to apply a low amount of irrigation with applying most N in the first period or evenly distributed. When more emphasis was put on the yield results, the best fertigation strategies apply enough water and supply the N-amount according to the N-demand pattern or most N in the first period.

The wireless monitoring network
ATEKNEA designed and developed a new wireless monitoring network, which is a fundamental component of the DCS. Special attention was put on two important requirements for products oriented to this market that condition its potential adoption: interoperability and energy-efficiency. The EFFIDRIP monitoring system entails a wireless network of sensor data acquisition devices called Sensor Remote Units (SRU) and a Field Gateway (FG) device that allows communication of the system in the field with the remote server where the EFFIDRIP software application is deployed. The other essential component of the DCS, the irrigation control system, was done by integrating existing commercial irrigation controllers at a higher level by means of software interfaces that enables the EFFIDRIP software application to exchange data with the controllers.
Wireless communications among SRUs and the FG is based on the ZigBee technology operating in the license-free 868 MHz frequency band, while the communication between the FG and the EFFIDRIP software application works via GPRS. The SRU features a built-in temperature sensor, one serial interface to read digital sensors, three analogue channels for analogue sensors and one pulse input for a water meter, and is powered from a pair of AA alkaline batteries guaranteeing an operating time over six months. Installing the SRUs requires minimum fixing elements and can be done in very accessible places, even inside the tree canopy. The FG integrates an adapted SRU that acts as the Coordinator of the SRU network and a commercial GPRS terminal.

Study of radiofrequency signals propagation in tree crops
The influence of the presence of fruit trees on the quality of the wireless communications considering different tree shapes and plantation spacings was studied. This study covered not only wireless communications at the frequency band that the DCS operates at (868 MHz) but also those bands where competing technologies do (2.4 GHz). A series of experiments were conducted in several plots of tree crops and the collected data was later analysed. Since literature analysing the context of tree crops is scarce, the purpose was to gain knowledge on this topic and to provide a set of rules and recommendations on how to properly design and deploy wireless communication networks for monitoring tree crops. Our tests indicated that working in the 868 MHz band provides larger coverage and higher signal robustness in dense vegetation environments compared to the 2.4 GHz band at same transmit power. Distances around 70 m can be achieved at 868 MHz when communicating devices are installed at 1 m above ground. This distance can be increased beyond 120 m if the antennas of the devices are installed above the canopy.

The EFFIDRIP software application
The EFFIDRIP software consists of a web application running on a remote server instead of on the end-user’s computer, featuring several specific tools for irrigation planning, support and supervision and automating irrigation rescheduling and reprogramming. The application integrates the algorithms and soil simulation outputs described above as well as a set of interfaces to interact with users and external elements such as external services and field equipment (i.e. DCS). It has been built using Java and MySQL as back-end database while the front-end has been implemented using HTML/CSS and Javascript. The end-user can access EFFIDRIP and all its features anytime through the internet using a web browser. The EFFIDRIP application runs a series of routine tasks automatically every day which are transparent to the user. The DCS systems deployed in plots over the world feeds continuously the EFFIDRIP application with sensor data, mostly about soil moisture content and water volume applied. At the end of each day the application analyses these data along with weather data for that day and for every location, provides an optimized water and nutrients dose, and transmits these doses to the irrigation controllers located in the field. The graphical user interface of the EFFIDRIP web application is shown in Figure 1, in which the Synoptic view of the supervision page can be observed.

EFFIDRIP field tests
The performance of the EFFIDRIP system was evaluated during pilot tests in three different locations: an (young) apple orchard in Mollerussa (Spain), and olive grove in Serpa (Portugal) and a citrus orchard in Drepano (Greece). The first site is part of an experimental station managed by IRTA while the other two sites are commercial crops managed by farmers. Full system tests were carried out during the 2014 irrigation season which ran from April to October. In Mollerussa, many complementary data were collected for analysing in detail the performance of the schedules, including weekly manual measurements of the water status of trees and fruit growth. Also at this site, specific robustness tests were conducted by IRTA to evaluate the performance of some functionalities at its full extent.
The results of the field tests showed that in all three sites EFFIDRIP delivered a seasonal volume of irrigation within the range expected from FAO recommendations. In Mollerussa, schedules by EFFIDRIP were compared with those by a human expert that had an unusual amount of information on the crop requirements at that site. The results showed a reduction by 14% in irrigation volume compared with the expert, while the commercial yields for both treatments were equivalent. The improvements were larger if compared with the performance by local farmers. The results from Mollerussa indicated an increase of 48% in water productivity from 7 kg/m3 by farmers to 10.4 kg/m3 by EFFIDRIP. In Serpa EFFIDRIP applied 65% less water than the farmer and in Drepano it applied 47% more water due to the severe deficit irrigation applied by the farmer. Yield could not be measured in Serpa and Drepano but visual inspection of the trees concluded that there were no substantial differences. In Drepano the farmer reported that the trees irrigated by EFFIDRIP had a healthier appearance than the control trees. Estimation of N leaching in the conditions of the Mollerussa test site, indicated an annual leaching of nitrate in the EFFIDRIP treatment of 19 kg/ha/year, slightly less than in those managed by the expert, whereas it was estimated to be a factor of 2.5 larger for the typical irrigation and fertilization management by local farmers. The system contributes to an efficient use of nutrients in two ways. First, it provides an annual fertigation plan customized to each site and based on the best practices. Secondly, by reducing the volume of drainage EFFIDRIP reduces the amount of nutrients released to the environment.
The user effort in installing and configuring EFFIDRIP (including the field equipment and the web application) resulted in the lower range of existing crop monitoring systems. However, EFFIDRIP overtakes other technologies in terms of user effort required for managing irrigation during a whole season. A valuable feature is that it completes by its own a large number of daily routine tasks, so that the user is only needed for strategic decisions and further the user can focus on the physical maintenance of the irrigation setup. Compared with products currently in the market, to the best of the Consortium’s knowledge EFFIDRIP is the first one which completes the whole integration between monitoring the crop and re-programming the irrigation controllers.
Data collected from the field tests were used to carry out a qualitative validation of the FUSSIM3D model. ALTERRA compared measured and simulated volumetric water contents in the soil at two depths at each of the three test sites for the EFFIDRIP controlled treatments. The qualitative comparisons between simulated and averaged measured volumetric water contents at three test sites showed that the behaviour of the simulation model was good.

Potential Impact:
EFFIDRIP will be a cost-effective tool that will provide the end-users (farmers or technicians) with effortless irrigation and fertilization management, as well as with easy and reliable supervision of the state of the irrigation system. EFFIDRIP aims at relieving farmers from most of the tasks involved in acquiring data, re-scheduling, reprogramming and supervising the application of efficient irrigation and fertigation.
The expected impacts from the farmer point of view are:
• Increases of water use efficiency (kg of product per m3 of water consumed) between 10% and 15% compared to well-managed irrigation.
• Increases of nutrient use efficiency through fertigation as a result of optimized water use.
• Decreases of energy consumed by the irrigation system. Since most of the energy is required for pumping water, any reduction in the volume of irrigation implies a proportional reduction in the energy consumed.
• Reduced labour for irrigation management and supervision tasks, which means time for other activities.
• Recovery of initial investment in less than 3 years for end-users adopting an EFFIDRIP-based system.

The EU-27 produced more than 38 million tonnes of fresh fruit in 2011. As the initial target end-users of EFFIDRIP, these producers stand to reduce the production inputs, namely irrigation water, fertilizers and energy, all three of which can be made more efficient with improved irrigation control. Furthermore, EFFIDRIP creates market opportunities for additional innovative technologies, providing SMEs in the irrigation and ICT sectors with an opportunity to implement a novel and necessary technology.
The EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) calls on society’s largest water users – industries, farmers and households – to pay for the full costs of the water services they receive. Faced with real water scarcity in areas of Europe, the WFD targets the agricultural sector due to its large water consumption and economic relevance. This sector uses an average of 24% of all water consumed in Europe and in some southern countries irrigation can even represent 80% of all water use. This is the main reason that explains the creation of an important irrigation industry in these countries, especially in Spain, from where some world-leading companies export irrigation components and complex irrigation and fertigation solutions to countries in South-America, Africa and Asia.
The dissemination strategy for EFFIDRIP was to communicate and promote the project itself as well as the foreground acquired during its lifetime. To this effect, the Consortium planned a professional communication strategy that allowed them to disseminate the results and reach all the stakeholders, as well as the scientific community. A unified visual identity for EFFIDRIP was created in order to increase the visibility and recognisability of the project since the beginning. Paper-based material as well as a public website were created to enable effective and wide dissemination. Besides publication of articles about EFFIDRIP in Associations newsletter and local media, open access journals with much larger coverage such as EU Research were also used. The EFFIDRIP project and some of the results achieved were also presented in several occasions to the scientific community and industry in conferences such as the EFITA Conference, the European Conference on Precision Agriculture, the Nitrogen Workshop and the SMAGUA fair as well as in scientific journals such as Vadose Zone Journal.
Today, the provision of irrigation scheduling services for tree crops is a small arena with very few and local players, although the market forecasts are attractive. The outcomes of the EFFIDRIP project will be relevant to the members of the partner SME Associations and will result in significant economic benefits for irrigation control solution producer MACRAUT, soil sensor producer MCBURNEY, and fertigation service provider HUBEL. These SME partners will benefit from a set of methods, components and tools that will enable new added-value products and services addressed to customers demanding higher efficiency in the use of resources.

List of Websites:
www.effidrip.eu

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Record Number: 191407 / Last updated on: 2016-11-10