By Tim Kalinowski on July 24, 2021.
Farming Smarter hosted a very timely session on micro-zone irrigation at its Plot Hop event earlier this week.
The featured speaker to address this topic was Cam Cote, founder of InteliRain- a company which designs precision irrigation systems for turf and agriculture. Cote put the problem succinctly to participants at the Plot Hop on Thursday.
“Agriculture uses 60-65 per cent of Alberta’s water, but that’s fine; we are going to do something about it,” he said. “We have a finite supply of water. We are using 65 per cent (for agriculture irrigation). Our population is growing in Alberta: projected to grow to five million in 2027, seven million by 2046. We are competing with the city folk (for water), but the other thing we are competing with is industry. And they want our water.”
Cote said there was also a larger issue of global food security at play- citing a U.N. report that says world food production must double by 2050 to continue to feed a growing human population.
“We have more people to feed and the same amount of water,” he summarized. “And we have more demand everyday on that water.”
While there are now many creative micro-irrigation technologies under testing in the field, they all have one intent, said Cote: to save water and use what water we have more efficiently by using sensors to scan the crop moisture levels accurately and use artificial intelligence driven machine learning to automatically adjust flow according to need. This is called micro-zone irrigation.
Micro-zone irrigation technology has made strides, Cote said, and had realized 40 per cent water savings in many instances under test conditions. But the problem, he explained, is making it scaleable and efficient to meet the needs of industrial agriculture.
It is what every research company working in this area strives for, stated Cote, including his own.
“If we can come up with a scaleable solution, and really breakdown irrigation into micro-zones, and know and understand what we are doing, there is a lot of benefit,” he stated. “We can save a significant amount of water, and we can increase our yields.”
Cote told Plot Hop attendees he believes his company is going to get their first using its soon to be patented advanced algorithms to drive predictable model control through machine-learning, all of it anchored on a framework of breakthroughs his company has made in LoRa technology.
LoRa technology works by using wireless telecommunication in a wide area network designed to allow long-range communications with irrigation pivots in this instance through access to Cloud technology.
Cote said his company is taking the Cloud out of the equation.
“We have actually designed the world’s first LoRa router so we can bring all that and keep all that information here (on the ground),” he explained. “We have got to be very self-contained on site. It has taken a lot of breakthroughs to get to this point. But we are just applying 2021 technology.”
Preliminary results of InteliRain’s micro-zone irrigation system projects a 34 per cent savings of water though its use, confirmed Cote. That is significant when every drop matters, he said.
“We really believe by bringing the latest science from 2021, and adapting it to your pivot, we can make great things happen,” he stated. “We can save a bunch of water, and we can increase your yield.”
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