When we grow tomatoes in our backyard, we need to keep the plants well-watered. Farmers who grow tomatoes commercially need to do the same.
But unlike home gardeners in the backyard, every drop can count economically for commercial producers. They strive to grow the perfect crop using as little water as possible.
Enter our world-first irrigation technology
WaterWise is the only water-use efficiency product for irrigated crops, such as tomatoes, that uses machine learning to predict future water needs in real-time. Machine learning is an artificial intelligence (AI) technique.
Waterwise is the result of our collaboration with Goanna Ag, which produces agricultural sensing systems for water-use efficiency. Together we co-designed an irrigation scheduling tool that puts our science in the hands of farmers.
Saving water and wealth
We commissioned an independent economic evaluation of WaterWise’s potential impact in the irrigated agricultural sector. It found the WaterWise tech could return a whopping $1 billion to Australian agriculture by 2030.
The evaluation found for every dollar invested in the science to develop the high-tech system, it will return a massive $8 to $125, or $43 on average, to the industry.
The evaluation is based on four of Australia’s most water-intensive agricultural crops – tomatoes, cotton, sugarcane and almonds. The system is used over a much wider range of crop types, so actual results will be higher than modelled. Our early field trials of the WaterWise system found it saved growers 35 per cent of the water used for tomatoes in one season. It also led to yield improvements in cotton.
Saving one million swimming pools
All up, WaterWise can achieve significant water savings for high value crops. In fact, the equivalent of up to one million swimming pools of water in 10 years.
The evaluation also uncovered an exciting and unexpected impact – reduced carbon dioxide emissions from irrigation. This is because pumping less water around on-farm means lower use of irrigation pumps, which reduces energy use and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
WaterWise could save the equivalent in CO2 emissions as taking 336,000 cars off the road for a year or turning off 186,000 households’ energy for a year.
Next step for crops
Our partnership with Goanna Ag will see further developments to the technology and new features for Australian growers and export markets. Goanna Ag currently has over 60 per cent of cotton growers in Australia using the technology. It has also been rolled out to the US.
Together we can look at ways we can transition the tech from fixed, in-field crop canopy sensors to drones or satellites, for example, and extend it to other crops.
This work was partly funded by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation and supported by CSIRO SME Connect.