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Investing in Water Management Innovation

Two men standing in a crop field, looking at a tablet.

Only 2.5 percent of all water on Earth is freshwater, and most of that is locked up in ice or underground. Only 1 percent of all freshwater is water we can access.

Conserving this finite resource is critical to ensuring our future. Through the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program, NRCS is funding the development of innovative tools and technologies that are helping farmers improve their operations and address critical natural resource concerns – like conserving water.

Through CIG funding for multiple projects over 10 years, the ARS National Peanut Research Laboratory, Flint River Conservation District, the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission and the University of Georgia worked to develop and test an irrigation water management tool for farmers, called Irrigator Pro.

What started as a cloud-based platform of Irrigator Pro can now be used as a smart phone application that can help farmers determine when to irrigate to ensure optimal crop growth, while conserving our water resources and minimizing irrigation costs. Irrigation recommendations are based on long-term, multi-crop irrigation management research and real-time data from sensors embedded in the soil.

Center pivot irrigation system watering crops

The tool calculates the available water in the soil and the daily water needs of the crop based on its growth stage. If irrigation is recommended, a message goes through to the farmers phone through the app.

The partnership tested the software on 53,000 acres of cropland in the Southeast. Every inch of water saved on those 53,000 acres equated to a savings of more than 1.4 billion gallons of water. If half is pumped with electricity and half with diesel, farmers saved roughly $290,000 on energy costs per inch of water.

Farmers who participated in the test recognized the technology’s potential and have continued to use Irrigator Pro, and new farmers are incorporating it into their operations.

“Water is a critical resource for our ecosystems and farmers,” said Marty McLendon, Flint River Conservation District Chairman. “Innovative tools like Irrigator Pro enable producers to optimize irrigation use to enhance conservation while maintaining the vitality of their crops.”

Read more about Irrigator Pro.

For more information about the CIG program, visit the CIG website.