Sensor Research and Detection Technology for Efficient Water Usage and Security in Agriculture

Monday, October 12, 2015: 09:40
Phoenix East (Hyatt Regency)
D. J. KIM (Auburn University)
Agriculture is the world’s largest consumer of water. Currently, 70% of global freshwater consumption is for agriculture, corresponding to a volume of over 2,500 km3. Unfortunately, water usage in agriculture is often highly inefficient with only a fraction of the water effectively used in plant growth. The rest of the water is lost via soil drainage, evaporation or transpiration. By 2050, the world’s population is expected to exceed 7 billion. The United Nations estimates that total agricultural water consumption will increase by 19% to meet global food demand. Additionally, increasing demand to shift more of the water used in agriculture to higher-value urban and industrial purposes will place additional stress on water for agriculture. Irrigation is also energy intensive. For example, irrigation with groundwater can lead to energy costs in the range of $10 to 100/acre per year. In California alone, agricultural irrigation uses 10 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

Water use efficiency in agriculture has been researched extensively. Conversion from traditional furrow irrigation to micro-irrigation methods has been shown to reduce irrigation needs by about 50% while improving yields. Unfortunately, present practice is less than ideal and often fails to collect all information necessary for cost effective management decisions. The utilization of above-ground irrigation systems has been shown to be effective, but a lack of adequate sensors for monitoring and control has led to non-optimal irrigation practices. Improving the efficient use of water resources still demands the development of new technologies that cost less and save energy by accurately assessing crop status for a given location, climate and soil conditions. 

Recently, advances in sensing and detection technologies as well as new approaches and protocols demonstrated potential for efficient irrigation control. Examples of the sensors include measurement of water efficiency, crop and soil-water conditions and evaluate food safety. Wireless sensor networks to transmit the measured information is also one of important technologies.  As efforts to address issues in agricultural monitoring, our research team has developed smart dipstick sensors to measure liquid conditions including surface tension, viscosity, temperature, water content and acidity. Smart trap to monitor invasive pests and environment has demonstrated the use of sensor systems for protecting crops. A remote, wireless magnetoelastic biosensor has also been focused on identifying the presence of various pathogens for enhancing food safety and security.

Sensor system and detection technology will enable targeted applications of water, fertilizer and pesticides to greatly reduce costs, improve producer profitability, and lead to a more sustainable agriculture. Efficient irrigation will also reduce environmental degradation while lowering energy usage in agriculture.