Flick a switch and automate the irrigation

Robotic control of irrigation through sensors and crop models


Machinery
University of Southern Queensland, National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture, irrigation and water management theme leader, Dr Joseph Foley

University of Southern Queensland, National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture, irrigation and water management theme leader, Dr Joseph Foley

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Robotic control of irrigation through sensors and crop models

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A PROJECT moving technology from the lab to the paddock is set to deliver more profit with less water across cotton, sugarcane and dairy industries. 

The automated precision irrigation project, part of the smarter irrigation initiative, is a collaboration between the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Cotton Research and Development Corporation, University of Southern Queensland (USQ), CSIRO and the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture. 

USQ, National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA), irrigation and water management theme leader, Dr Joseph Foley, said the project integrated remote control irrigation technology with crop moisture measurement and modelling tools to autonomously control irrigation in commercial fields.

The result, Dr Foley said, was being able to irrigate at any time of the day, based on the crops needs. 

“To optimise furrow irrigation, you need to be able to cut the water off at the optimal time, which isn’t always a convenient time,” he said.

“Adding sensors and models to the remote control technology allows you to robotically and remotely control irrigation systems.”

Dr Foley said the technology controlled not just the start of irrigation, but also the length required for each section of the paddock. 

“In the cotton, and potentially the grains industry, you can employ a small pipe through the bank system,” he said.

“This involves pipes the same size as a siphon, punched through the head ditch wall.

“Often we use a primary and secondary head ditch with an actuated gate between that can be controlled remotely and robotically.”

Dr Foley said each gate controlled about 18 hectares, allowing more precise irrigation across the field.

For flexible flume irrigation in the sugarcane industry a actuating valve is placed on the supply pipe, he said.

Dr Foley said in pivot irrigation the project was using actuaters which were already commercially available for individual nozzle control.

“Across all these systems of actuators is the VariWise irrigation platform,” he said.

“The system relies on a set of field sensors and a live crop model which generates the best irrigation strategy.

“This then controls the actuators, directly controlling irrigation.”

Dr Foley said this project would not have been possible without grower collaboration. 

“We are working in large scale farmer co-operators in the Burdekin, Darling Downs, Namoi Valley and Tasmania,” he said.

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