Imagine visiting a website to check your crop canopy measurement, which would tell you exactly how much water the plants need. It’s being worked on right now.
With water becoming a more valuable resource when growing crops, especially high-value vegetables like this pepper field, researchers are exploring futuristic methods to measure crop canopy from satellites to save water and satisfy plants’ thirst.
“A bell pepper with a canopy cover of 40 percent may use, in a week, an inch of water—the amount you might want to replace the next time you irrigate,” says USDA-ARS research leader and agricultural engineer Tom Trout. Canopy-cover estimates, used in a standard equation for irrigation scheduling, provide a fast, accurate, dependable, and affordable way for growers to avoid overwatering their crops.
Overirrigating can be wasteful and can lead to unwanted leaching of fertilizers and other potential pollutants into underground water supplies, Trout says.
The concept of using canopy-cover measurements to estimate a plant’s water requirements isn’t new, he says. But ARS’s California-based studies are perhaps unparalleled in scope, encompassing an extensive assortment of in-demand orchard, vineyard, and vegetable crops of various age classes, growing in various plant and row spacings, in 30 different California fields.
For more details, check out the story “Canopy Cover: The Secret to Gauging Plants’ Thirst,” from the January 2009 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
Irrigation efficiency is one of John Deere’s latest investment areas, called John Deere Water Technologies, along with wind energy, as mentioned in their 2008 annual report. In fact, John Deere Green Tech just announced receiving top honors at a recent irrigation industry show for its MHG (Micro Hydroelectric Generator), a revolutionary water-powered irrigation control system.