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Automated irrigation helps the environment

Over the last decade the use of irrigation systems has grown significantly; however, inefficient systems cause water and fertiliser to be wasted. An EU-funded initiative addressed this problem with the aim of enabling farmers to carefully monitor and control their use of these resources.
Automated irrigation helps the environment
At present, more than 9 million European farmers irrigate an area of land the size of Greece, or 4.5 % of the whole EU territory. In the future, these lands are expected to be subject to longer dry periods as result of climate change. Therefore, the use of irrigation will continue to increase.

The 'Development of an automatic irrigation and fertilization system' (OPTIFERT) project worked to find a solution to the problem. The consortium developed an innovative automated irrigation system for medium- and large-scale farms. The system combines fertilisation and irrigation in one step, and reflects a growing trend in which computers allow farmers to monitor water and fertiliser consumption more easily.

The system comprises a soil sensor, data processor, and a control and distribution unit, which monitors key soil parameters and crop needs in real time. Control software can access databases on growth information relevant to different crops and soil data (type, structure and fertility), and economic data regarding costs and prices. Weather forecasts can also be obtained and fed into the system. In addition, the user can add data, such as information on crops and planting times.

Data can be gathered to determine the correct dose of water and fertiliser for each growth stage of the crop. This will reduce the amount of these valuable resources used by farmers, thereby reducing environmental impacts, such as groundwater pollution and eutrophication of water bodies.

The OPTIFERT system will also enable farmers to save money by reducing energy usage, and help to ensure compliance with environmental legislation and requirements. In addition, it will help Europe's agricultural sector to become more competitive in the global market place.

Related information

Keywords

Irrigation, water, fertiliser, farmers, automatic irrigation, fertilization system, eutrophication
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