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New CSIRO initiative helps get ‘more crop per drop’ for Australian farmers

A new partnership between CSIRO and agricultural technology company Goanna Ag will help maximise every drop of irrigation water used to grow crops.

The WaterWise initiative focuses on providing Australian irrigators with digital strategies to confidently apply irrigation water at the right time to optimise yield, quality and water use for high-value crops.

It uses sensors to measure irrigated crop water stress and predict a plant’s future water needs in real time.

Goanna Ag, which produces farm sensing systems for water-use efficiency, will incorporate WaterWise’s analytics as a data stream in its GoField system for on-farm customers. 

This means customers will be able to irrigate based on a plant’s needs, helping growers save water or produce more crop per drop.

CSIRO's Dr Rose Brodrick with a prototype WaterWise sensor in tomatoes.

The WaterWise system “lets the plants do the talking”, according to WaterWise team leader Dr Rose Brodrick, with in-field sensors that measure the canopy temperature of crops every 15 minutes. This information is then sent to the CSIRO's sensor data infrastructure. 

Weather forecasts are added, and the CSIRO's data algorithm is applied using machine learning to predict the crop's water requirements for the next seven days.

Brodrick said this means that, for the first time, growers can see the water stress of their crops at any point.

"Just like humans, plants have an optimum temperature. When things are normal it's easier to predict when a plant will need water,” she said. 

“But when conditions change, like with a new crop, a new field or unusually hot or cold weather forecasted, farmers want to back up their decision making.

"The usual strategy is 'if you're unsure, just add water'. This is where using [technology] can help give them data and more confidence in their decision making, because every drop counts.”

Goanna Ag expects the system incorporating WaterWise to be commercially available before the 2020 summer cropping season.

The next step for WaterWise is to go from in-field based canopy sensors to drones or satellites.