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Intelligent tools to accurately predict agricultural water needs

Farming is one of the biggest users of water in the EU. To optimise consumption and reduce costs, the ENORASIS project provides a network of wireless sensors and water valves which collect information on factors that influence how much water crops need.

By combining advanced weather predictions with a network of field sensors, farmers can accurately assess their irrigation needs and prevent unnecessary water wastage. This offers environment benefits in the form of valuable water savings and soil erosion prevention, and economic savings for the agricultural sector. Indeed, farming is one of the biggest users of water in the EU. In southern parts of Europe, irrigation consumes around half of all water taken from springs, rivers, lakes and underground sources each year. What is more, a great deal of this water is wasted. This is why the EU-funded ENORASIS project – scheduled for completion at the end of 2014 – is of such critical importance to achieving sustainable and efficient agriculture. A great deal has already been achieved. Four pilot schemes situated in different climactic zones – Mediterranean island, northern, central and southern Europe – have focused on improving irrigation for six crop types: potato, maize, apple, sweet cherry, cotton and grapefruit. Results from these pilot schemes have so far been positive, and will be disseminated after the summer. The ENORASIS system works like this. Farmers install a network of wireless sensors and water valves across their farms, which collect information on factors that influence how much water crops need. These factors include soil humidity, air temperature, sunshine, wind speed and rainfall. Water valves are also monitored in order to factor in how much water farmers have already added to the fields. An advanced weather prediction model is then developed – and combined with satellite images of the fields and certain information picked up by the field sensors – to create a very specific, personalised weather forecast for the next three days. The model offers such accuracy that the forecast can be broken down into areas as small as two square kilometres. Together with data concerning crops, a detailed daily irrigation plan is finally developed, helping farmers decide whether extra irrigation is needed. The ENORASIS project has also created an easy-to-use online platform where data is stored and accessed. Farmers can access this platform through a variety of connected devices, such as a smartphone if they happen to be in the field, or at a desktop computer. In this way, farmers have a much better understanding of their water requirements, and greater control in targeting water resources to where they are needed most. The project has other implications as well. Those responsible for water management will be able to more effectively forecast and manage irrigation water resources and cover irrigation demand. Water companies can also use the data collected to make more informed decisions about whether to increase infrastructure investment in a particular area, or whether to introduce smart water pricing to encourage more sustainable water use. Following the scheduled completion of the project in December 2014, the ENORASIS partners intend to make all results commercially available.