A soil moisture management system developed for farmers five years ago has been automated to provide daily and predictive information.
The Hydrotec system was developed by Frizzell Agricultural Electronics to provide information about historical and current soil moisture. Now, Lincoln University has worked with the company and a recipient of the Ministry of Science and Innovation’s undergraduate internship scheme to enhance the system.
The data handling has been automated, communicating via SMS from the Hydrotec units, which are buried in the ground on participating farms, mainly in Canterbury, says Lincoln University lecturer Stuart Charters.
Charters says that previously the data was decoded, copied and then manipulated. Delivery via SMS enables daily updates for farmers as well as predictions for up to a week ahead.
He describes the Hydrotec system as unique in the way it works. “There are other soil moisture management systems but they are a lot more expensive and less robust,” he says.
A Hydrotec unit costs around $600. There is a subsequent subscription fee of $45 a month.
Matt Almutairi, a recent graduate of Lincoln, and Nick Frizzell began their research into the project by interviewing farmers to find out the information they needed and how it could be presented to make it user friendly. They found that while most farmers checked their emails occasionally, nearly all had cellphones or smartphones, which allowed them to access information as they moved around the farm.
Farmers said they needed the soil moisture information when an irrigator was about to be shifted. The information was needed on the job in the paddock, not back on a computer at the house or office.