Agtech Australian first: more crop per drop

A new partnership between Australia’s national science agency CSIRO and local agtech company Goanna Ag will see sensors and analytics combined to maximise every drop of irrigation water used to grow crops.

In an Australian first, ‘WaterWise’ is the only water-use efficiency product for irrigated crops that measures crop water stress and predicts future water needs in real time. The tech is set to help growers save water or produce more crop per drop.

Goanna Ag, which produces agricultural sensing systems for water-use efficiency, will be delivering WaterWise’s smart analytics as a data stream to their on-farm customers.

CEO Alicia Garden said that for Goanna Ag and its customers, being involved in this innovation means they can access brand-new, Australian-made, science-based technology and incorporate it into their existing GoField system.

“Being able to predict when to irrigate will allow our clients – farmers – to plan based on what the plant needs,” Ms Garden said.

The WaterWise system ‘lets the plants do the talking’ with in-field sensors that measure the canopy temperature of crops every 15 minutes. It then sends the data to CSIRO’s sensor data infrastructure, adds in the weather forecast and uses machine learning to apply CSIRO’s unique algorithm to predict the crop’s water requirements for the next seven days.

WaterWise team leader Dr Rose Brodrick explains that predicting the future is the real breakthrough science. It means for the first time, growers can see the water stress of their crops at any point and predict their future water needs.

“Just like humans, plants have an optimum temperature. When things are normal it’s easier to predict when a plant will need water. But when conditions change – like with a new crop, a new field, or unusually hot or cold weather forecasted – farmers want backup with their decision making.”

“The usual strategy is ‘if you’re unsure, just add water’. This is where using high tech can help give them data and more confidence in their decision making, because every drop counts,” she said.

Developing and commercialising breakthrough agtech like WaterWise is a feat CSIRO is one of few organisations capable of achieving. It involved a range of skill sets from agronomists to plant physiologists, data and machine learning experts, software engineers, social scientists and innovation specialists. And it was done in record time.

The next steps for WaterWise are to take it from in-field based canopy sensors to drones or satellites.

Goanna Ag expects the system incorporating WaterWise will be commercially available in time for the 2020 summer cropping season.

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