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Mixing agricultural knowledge with wireless technologies to save water

In arid regions such as the Mediterranean, water shortage is becoming a chronic problem, yet over half of available resources are wasted through inefficient agricultural irrigation. Researchers have developed a real-time monitoring system to test soil moisture and deliver water to agricultural crops.
Mixing agricultural knowledge with wireless technologies to save water
Agriculture wastes 60 % of the 2 500 trillion litres of water it uses each year — some 70 % of the world's accessible water. One of the main culprits involves inefficient water irrigation systems. In Europe, irrigated agriculture is the largest water consumer in the Mediterranean — an area where drought is becoming a major problem. In total, drought cost the European economy EUR 11 billion in 2003 and in Spain alone the bill was some EUR 2 billion in 2005.

An EU-funded research project, 'Low cost, easy to use intelligent irrigation scheduling system' (WATER-BEE) , looked to rethink farm irrigation systems. The international team of researchers developed an intelligent irrigation system to optimise the use of water and only irrigate where and when needed. Integrating low-cost wireless sensor networks, soil-sensor technology and intelligent software, the system is easy for farmers to use and robust enough for farm environments.

In field tests, the WATER-BEE technologies reduced water use by around 51 %. Another benefit is cutting fertiliser use because, by delivering the right amount of water where it is needed, the system reduces the run-off of nutrients that indiscriminate watering can lead to.

Estimates for the price of the system are around EUR 350 per hectare, meaning it is affordable for small farmers, who are the major target market in this area. The system is also applicable to other major water users, such as golf courses, other sports grounds and hotels, as well as being viable for domestic gardens.

WATER-BEE is a timely innovation to save water, helping to address what will become an increasingly serious problem for Europe and worldwide. It has the potential to bring major economic and environmental benefits.

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