Vegetable farmers save money, improve crop quality with underground sensors

Vegetable farmers throughout the U.S. are growing better quality crops and saving money in the process by using AquaSpy’s multi-sensor layered approach, a technology that provides insight on soil moisture in the active root zone, as well as how the crop is consuming available water and nutrients.

Recently, AquaSpy interviewed Chuck Elam, Seedway’s Watermelon Category and Market Development Manager to find out how watermelon farmers participating in a trial by AquaSpy and seed company Seedway have reduced their irrigation cycles in half in some cases – from 3 to 6 hours – and saved money on water and diesel fuel while producing a better crop.

The proven, below ground technology, called Crophesy, uses wireless, battery-powered, multi-sensor cellular probes that measure moisture, salinity, and temperature layer by layer in the soil. The probes come with 3, 6, or 12 sensors, located 4 inches apart. The technology provides continuous wireless monitoring in the active root zone and works in all soil types.

“It’s not just about learning if the soil is moist or not. It’s about learning whether the crops are getting the water and nutrients they need at critical times throughout the season,” says Kathleen Glass, AquaSpy head of marketing. 

Data accrued from the probes is sent to the cloud throughout the day, where intelligent algorithms process it and put it into easy-to-read charts that farmers can access on an app. Those charts include the proprietary “Yield Efficiency Score,” also known as YES! The score ranges from 350 to 850 and is depicted in a green band, where farmers want to keep their scores within because it tells them they’re irrigating properly. The higher the score, the more consistent and predictable the crop outcome, which equates to higher profitability.

Considering the high cost of diesel fuel, farmers are keeping a close eye on how much they’re spending on it to pump water to irrigate their crops. For watermelon farmers, saving water and the cost of the diesel fuel used to pump it has been one of the biggest benefits of using the AquaSpy technology, Elam said. Without the sensor probes, they wouldn’t know if they were irrigating too much.

“Farmers have told me over and over how much they’ve saved on diesel fuel,” Elam said. “Some say they’re saving $300 to $400 a week in fuel costs because they are no longer running water just to run water. Farmers see the value in this.”

Farmers aren’t just saving on fuel and water, they’re also saving on fertilizer because they’re not flushing it out by overwatering, Elam added, noting that the less fertilizer flushed also equates to less possible runoff into waterways.

Watermelon farmers have shared with Elam how they’ve challenged themselves to keep their scores in the YES! green band. Studying the chart of a watermelon farmer who stayed in the green band throughout the growing cycle, Elam remarked the farmer was not overwatering or underwatering and had excellent quality and yields as a result.

By watching their scores, vegetable and specialty crop farmers can “learn, apply, and adjust” to improve their scores. Soil type, humidity, nighttime and daytime temperatures, and other variables all have an impact on the scores.

Because some farmers in the watermelon trial were “used to watering the way they used to water,” it took some time for them to embrace the AquaSpy technology, Elam said. But when they became comfortable with it, they were all in with it. He said farmers liked the easiness of the install and the overall simplicity of the technology. “It’s plug and play,” he added.

With Crophesy wireless sensors, farmers note be benefits of saving money and also like that they don’t have to always go out into the field and scout for indicators of overwatering or underwatering, because they can access the technology’s app on their phones, tablets, or desktop to learn if their crops need attention.