CSIRO opens smart sensing tech to Qld irrigators

Queensland-based irrigators have been given exclusive access to sensor and analytics data for water management following a partnership announced by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Queensland-based agtech company Goanna Ag.

The partnership will provide irrigators access to the CSIRO’s ‘WaterWise’ program, which utilises smart sensor, big data, and water management forecasting technologies to track the consumption of water used in irrigation – an effort not only conserve water resources but also maximise crop yields.

Goanna Ag, a producer of agricultural water sensing systems, will now deliver WaterWise’s data stream to its on-farm customers. The agtech is expected to begin operations during this year’s summer cropping season.

WaterWise, pitched as “a world-first, cloud-connected, plant-based sensor monitoring platform” and backed by analytics software and field drones, helps irrigators measure water stress on crops whilst managing water usage and predictions for future irrigation needs in real-time.

Transforming raw data into actionable insights

Waterwise integrates with the CSIRO’s Digiscape Future Science Platform, utilising its Senaps-LAND software to deliver real-time insights to irrigators.

The data staging software transforms raw data into “product-ready” information for end-users, giving them access to both stored and real-time sensor data combined with a range of predictive modelling tools.

WaterWise team lead, Dr Rose Brodrick, said the ability to better manage and predict water use through smart sensor tech presented a “breakthrough” for irrigation and agricultural sciences.

Sensor and analytics technologies have supported irrigators in tracking water usage while ensuring the allocation of water was used wisely across the irrigation system, Brodrick said.

Water tracking technology further allows growers to identify water stress within their crops at any point, whilst predicting future water allocation needs.

Like humans, Brodrick noted, plants had 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.”

Moving past the default position

For irrigators, a default position has often been ‘if unsure, just add water’. But with a long-standing drought, scarcity of rainfall, and dwindling water resources, irrigation and agriculture systems could reap significant benefit from a more managed and scientific approach to water distribution, powered by an array of sensor and analytics technologies, according to Brodrick.

For example, sensors could detect and respond to environmental changes in real-time, such as temperature, moisture or pressure on the soil or crop, collecting data from irrigation systems, alongside with water pumps, waterways, and irrigation canals.

Analytics data could help manage water allocations and the planting of crops with more precision, whilst taking advantage of predictive modelling, forecasting, and data integration tools.

Brodrick noted that the Goanna Ag partnership would further serve to commercialise and expand the WaterWise program’s footprint in Queensland.

The WaterWise program leverages a range of skillsets from agronomists to plant physiologists, data and machine learning experts, software engineers, social scientists, and innovation specialists.

The next step from in-field based canopy sensors, according to Brodrick, would be to further expand the use of drones and satellite tracking systems.

Toolbox for integrated irrigation

Under industry collaborations with tech solutions providers such as Goanna Ag, as well as other government and academic institutions, the CSIRO said it plans to develop a “fully integrated irrigation toolbox” for growers.

“We are seeking innovative growers and industry partners that are keen on working with us to develop, apply, validate and test our irrigation toolbox on-farm,” the CSIRO said in an industry brief.

Regionally, the CSIRO also runs a water dashboard project under a Sense-T program in Tasmania. Sense-T is built around internet of things (IoT), data migration, conversion, sorting, and mapping technologies.

The system offers real-time sensor data from multiple government and private sources to help farmers understand the impacts of water management decisions.