Probes key to water savings

28 May, 2003 10:00 PM
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THE war on water conservation is gathering pace with new technologies continuing to come on-stream to help farmers minimise losses.

Farmers at major field days and local shows increasingly are seeking out innovations is this side of the farm machinery industry to catch up on hardware that has the potential to limit inefficient water management practices.

The new EasyAG probe - a newly adapted soil moisture monitoring device - is a good example. South Australian-based company Sentek says its range of electronic sensing probes typically can deliver 20 percent savings in water useage patterns.

The company's chief executive officer, Tim Waterhouse, said the firm had built its reputation on supplying farmers with probes that positioned sensors at 10cm, 30cm and 50cm intervals to monitor water profiles at different depths across most vegetable crops.

More recently it had unveiled an additional, slimline version able to deliver read-outs some 80cm below ground level and with appeal to growers managing deeper rooted crops.

"Typically, a grower would survey his property and 'break it up' into similar management zones," Mr Waterhouse said. "This might identify zones that might behave the same with respect to their response from irrigation.

"So, for example, if four parts of your property were virtually identical, then you would only need to monitor one of them - because you could assume the other three would react in much the same way," he added.

Sentek said all farmers had to do was drill a neat hole to drop each Sentek probe down, making sure if fitted snugly to prevent seepage by rainfall. Growers then could discover how deep the water from their latest irrigation cycle had permeated the soil.

The company says it is quite possible to track the amount of water being withdrawn by plants at varying root depths. This became evident when studying the 'stepping-effect' on a graph located at the farm office.

In fact, information is relayed back either using solar-powered data loggers sitting in the paddock, or via cables or radio systems, even by cellular 'phones.

"You can tell when plants are starting to stress long before you get leaf wilt," Mr Waterhouse.

"This means you can maintain the growing environment in a perfect shape and therefore you get more consistent growth, higher yields and better crop quality."

Sentek says water conservation techniques have "come of age" during the past 18 months with increasing awareness of the need for farmers to better manage their soil moisture levels - certainly amongst more progressive farmers.

As far as costings are concerned, Mr Waterhouse the base price of the company's probes range from between $1,000/$2,000, excluding some of the relaying technology.

Sentek Sensor Technologies shortly will introduce its new irrigation scheduling software, namely IrriMAX, plus TriScan - a multi function sensor able to track fertiliser and salinity in addition to monitoring soil moisture levels.

For further information, contact Sentek Marketing Coordinator Adrian Manera

Free call in Australia 1-800-SENTEK (1-800-736-835).

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