SMART-HYDRO – Intelligent system to optimise the use of water in agriculture, proposes a new research approach based on information technologies and sensors. Smart-Hydro is a real-time, decision making support system that enables the water needs of each crop to be determined and optimises water resource use and management.
Historically, monitoring of crop status and needs has been based on traditional techniques associated with direct observation of crops, the land and experience. In the same way that the digital revolution has transformed our everyday lives and the way we interact with our environment, the arrival of new information and communication technologies (ICT) to sectors like agriculture represents a breakthrough in terms of productivity and a reduction in environmental impact. The introduction of ICT into the equation opens up a wide range of possibilities in agriculture and forms the basis for raising awareness of environmental issues and the importance of reasonable use of water. Collaboration between research centres and technology companies in the Smart-Hydro project is facilitating the development of an advanced support tool for decision making and water management in agriculture, based on the needs of the crop and associated environmental factors. This support tool is based on the new possibilities offered by ICT. Part of the work in the project has involved the sensorisation of two pilot plots on which different crops (potatoes and corn) are cultivated for the purpose of validation and demonstrating how the tool operates.
A battery of sensors is installed on each of these plots for wireless transmission of data using the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) system. This data provides information on soil conditions and forecasts on crop water needs in real time. Another innovative element of Smart-Hydro is the use of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or drones to study and monitor the vegetative state of the crop. The treatment and interpretation of the images obtained by infrared and multispectral (wavelengths of 530nm, 550nm, 570nm, 670nm, 700nm and 800nm) cameras installed on the UAV enables the calculation of a number of vegetation indexes for the purpose of determining the phenological status of the crop. Such indexes include the EVI (Enhanced Vegetation Index), NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) and SAVI (Soil Adjusted Vegetation Index). These indexes use the radiometric behaviour of the vegetation, mainly in the visible and near infrared spectrums, to determine which vegetation is growing healthily and thriving and which is diseased or growing with low density. Such aspects are not easy to identify in large plantations or with the naked eye. All this data, along with climate variables obtained with weather stations, is integrated on a platform, where it is processed along with the images obtained by the UAVs. The technologies implemented in Smart-Hydro provide information on the water requirements of a crop, based mainly on temperature and atmospheric humidity, rainfall, incident solar radiation, vegetative status of plants and quantity of water available in the soil.
In addition to water needs, all plantations have an associated environmental impact that must be assessed and quantified, given that it is an additional externality of the production process. This indicator is called water footprint, which basically includes water from precipitation, irrigation water from surface or groundwater sources, and the water needed to dilute fertilizers and/or pesticides to concentrations that are acceptable for the natural environment. The ultimate objective of Smart-Hydro is, based on this real-time information, to provide users from any web platform with access to an application with a series of functions, such as the “Servicio de Asesoramiento al Riego (Irrigation Advisory Service – SAR)”, the carbon and water footprints associated with a crop after harvesting, and the Water Stress Index (WSI) of the vegetation. To make the design model as real as possible, it is necessary to characterize the natural environment in which the pilot plots are located and study the factors involved in growth of the vegetation. A crop demands water, nutrients, and sunlight to grow healthily and productively. If any of these elements does not meet the requirements of plants, then their vegetative and reproductive cycles will be affected, with consequent adverse effects on harvest results. To make the design model as real as possible, it is necessary to characterise the natural environment in which the pilot plots are located and study the factors involved in growth of the vegetation. A crop demands water, nutrients, and sunlight to grow healthily and productively. If any of these elements does not meet the requirements of plants, then their vegetative and reproductive cycles will be affected, with consequent adverse effects on harvest results.
By way of example
The irrigation of a crop of this type (corn or potato) is a closed cycle involving the extraction of water with certain physicochemical and quality characteristics from the aquifer or reservoir (reservoir, lake or river). This water is used water for irrigation and the surplus irrigation water, with modified physicochemical and quality characteristics, is returned to the subsoil or river, by infiltration or runoff. Traditional agriculture uses supplements and/or fertilisers to improve vegetable growth, as well as plant protection products to prevent or eliminate plagues. These chemical compounds, some of which are very persistent in the environment, are carried by the surplus irrigation water and build up in ecosystems and the fauna associated with these ecosystems.
In order to include these factors in the equation, the SMART-HYDRO project team is undertaking a hydrogeochemical study of the groundwater body (GB) from which the irrigation water for the pilot plots is extracted, called “Aluvial Aquifers: Jarama-Tajuña (030.007)”; and of the surface water bodies (Jarama River and lakes) in the surrounding areas that are connected with the river-aquifer system of the area. If the initial quantitative and qualitative characteristics of the water resources and the fauna that inhabit the ecosystems associated with the GB (which serve as bio-indicators) are known, variations in initial conditions and trends over time can be monitored, and assessment can be made as to whether the crops cultivated on the surface have a significant effect. Characterisation and monitoring of the state of water bodies is important in order to plan sustainable management of the water resource in a manner that is compatible with the real needs of the crop.
SMART-HYDRO– Intelligent system to optimise the use of water in agriculture, is an experimental project in which know-how and techniques from different areas are combined from a scientific and technological perspective. The SMART-HYDRO consortium is made up of 6 partners: AIN, IMDEA Agua, Inkoa, Innovati, Neiker and Sensing & Control.