In 2021, one of the key developments in the farming industry will come from improvements in the hydraulic and operational efficiency of the network thanks to the installation of sensors and of remote meters for farmers. Furthermore, smart irrigation, based on the real needs of crops, the moisture content of the soil and weather forecasts, will become more widespread thanks to advances in remote sensing and sensor technology. In this area, technological solutions and automatic irrigation rescheduling will optimize water consumption and enhance environmental sustainability by reducing the farming industry’s water and carbon footprints.
In this article, Begoña Tarrazona, Irrigations Consultant at Idrica, details the top trends in the farming industry for 2021.
The starting point
One of the biggest challenges for irrigation associations is monitoring and automating network assets, over and above their basic functions, such as the filling of irrigation basins and scheduling watering times. The boost provided by sensor technology, although still incipient, will mean improvements in infrastructure operations and control.
New investments in smart meters and smart irrigation are planned for 2021 but, at the same time, technologies that have already been implemented and are not being used due to a lack of experience on the part of the infrastructure operators will need to be brought back into service.
Environmental sustainability and improved water efficiency will drive the transformation of the farming industry, which is clearly moving towards centralized, automated management. These are the key trends in the farming industry for 2021.
Top trends for 2021
1 - Remote metering and leak detection
The implementation of smart meters is still an unresolved issue for most irrigation associations. Although this technology is one of the keys to boosting irrigation efficiency, the initial investment required is often only feasible through public subsidies. This is why, in the 21st century, the general trend is still for teams to take visual readings over several weeks, increasing costs, delaying data collection and opening the door to human error.
In the quest for greater water and operational efficiency, the future of irrigation lies in smart metering. As in the area of drinking water, this development will improve the management of the billing cycle, including meter reading, billing and payment collection; and, through real-time reading of subscriber meters and the application of advanced algorithms, we will able to monitor and detect leaks and fraud and forecast demand.
In the absence of smart meters, the first step toward monitoring leaks in the network is to carry out a preliminary study to decide where to install sector meters, so that water balances can be carried out by individual sectors, and where to install pressure transducers to detect sudden drops in pressure. Real-time analysis of the water consumed and its comparison with historical data, as well as real-time information about the pressure in the network, will enable the sector where the leak is located to be pinpointed.
2 - Smart irrigation
In the coming year, more and more irrigation associations will choose to water their land according to the real needs of their crops and the moisture content of the soil. This is what we call smart irrigation. Based on remote sensing and sensors installed in the fields to calculate the water balance, technological solutions will indicate when and how much water should be used to optimize water resources and thus promote environmental sustainability.
Remote sensing in itself is a breakthrough, as it provides information on the state of the crops without the need to deploy any assets. Satellite imagery can map vegetation and soil health by monitoring specific parameters such as moisture, its photosynthetically active biomass index and nitrification. In 2021, remote sensing is expected to provide increasingly complex information.
A further step forward in this trend is the automatic adjustment of irrigation schedules through the application of algorithms, taking into account the water needs of the crop, the moisture content of the soil and the weather forecast.
Improved environmental sustainability is the main advantage of smart irrigation. By optimizing water consumption, the energy used for pumping the water is also reduced.
3 - Data integration
Both smart meters and smart irrigation imply that more data have to be available and ready to be analyzed. Therefore, data integration will undoubtedly be one of the main trends this year.
The ability to view all relevant system information on a single platform in real time is key to improving decision-making. To this end, in the coming years, asset monitoring and consumption control will become commonplace.
In order to extract value from the data, irrigation associations will also need to have specialists on hand to operate this specific software.
Idrica's Global Water Trends 2021 report provides a comprehensive list of trends for the industry, including the top trends in the farming industry for 2021.