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How Can Farmers Reduce Center Pivot Irrigation Costs by up to $135,000 by Cutting in Water?

center pivot irrigation cost reduction soil scout

Center pivot irrigation is a common technique in farming, yet it has the highest costs. Diesel alone can cost up to $25,000 yearly for 15 acre-inches per center pivot system. Farmers have enormous pressure to reduce costs and save water, but it’s not easy without jeopardizing crop quality and yield. It requires a systematic and careful process. 

This 4-step irrigation optimization approach using wireless soil moisture sensors can help farmers reduce water consumption! With a reduction of up to 50%, they can slash center pivot diesel costs by $135k in 20 years with a payback under 2 years!

Read this blog for the four-step irrigation optimization approach – and, check the model Calculation to estimate your cost savings!

Download the full four-step irrigation optimization guide here

Typical Center Pivot Irrigation Costs

Center pivot operating costs consist of, e.g., diesel, electricity, oil and lubricants, repairs and maintenance, labor, and more. Diesel fuel is one of the primary operating costs, and it varies greatly. According to the University of Georgia’s crop production budget 2019, a center pivot irrigation system can consume diesel worth $12.50, and electricity for $7.00 per every irrigated acre-inch.

So, if 15 acre-inches are applied during a season, the total yearly diesel bill becomes $187.5 per acre. This corresponds to a total of $25,600 of yearly diesel expenditure for a fully-rotating center pivot system assuming a 136 acre field. If electricity was used, the total yearly energy cost in the same scenario would be $14,280.

Reducing the Costs via Optimized Irrigation – What are the Risks? 

The center pivot operating costs are directly proportional to the utilization of the system: the number of runs and the amount of water pumped. Reducing water consumption is a challenging task, however. The lack of accurate soil moisture data has been the biggest constraint – i.e., how much water plants can get from the soil currently and how much irrigation is needed? 

Optimal soil moisture is critical for plants. Recent research on soil moisture optimization showed that yield losses start to develop well before drought reaches the wilting point. Actually, plant growth slows down immediately when root-zone soil moisture falls below the optimal range.

Even a small water deficiency has several negative impacts on plants: less water reduces photosynthesis, which slows down growth. Reduced water uptake means less nutrient uptake.

So, decreasing water usage without continuous, underground soil moisture monitoring is a huge risk, because traditional above-ground weather observation appliances such as rain gauges, evaporation models, or drones do not represent underground conditions accurately.  

How to Reduce Water Consumption Safely? 

 

center pivot irrigation cost reduction

 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to water savings because required actions depend on farm location, soil quality, overall weather conditions, crop type, and several other parameters.

However, by continuously monitoring underground soil moisture, and optimizing center pivot irrigation based on reliable feed-back, farmers can follow the best-practice methods – such as the four-step irrigation optimization approach – more accurately. This enables farmers to reduce water consumption more efficiently and with a lower risk than traditional techniques – such as manual inspection, evaporation models, or weather observations.  

The Four-step Approach for Optimizing Irrigation

Here’s how to optimize center pivot irrigation based on reliable underground soil moisture data to save diesel and electricity costs, and water.

 

1. Obtain the Optimal Soil Moisture 

Always aim to optimize and maintain your soil moisture at Field Capacity center pivot irrigation optimal soil moisturelevel (FC). It is optimal for plant root health: water is readily available, and there is plenty of oxygen for transpiration. But, if plants consider FC as optimal moisture content, how much drier soil plants can tolerate? Use underground soil moisture sensors to define the lowest acceptable soil moisture level to save even more water. However, monitor soil moisture continuously to avoid too dry soil and slowed down plant growth. On the other hand, soil moisture above the FC level also hampers growth and causes water leakage.

 

2. React on Incidental Rainfalls Accurately

Observe how natural rainfall influences root zone moisture to know how much you can cut back on center pivot irrigation to save water. Note that rain gauge’s information does not indicate actual underground soil moisture.

 

3. Optimize Irrigation Based on In-field Soil Moisture Variations

Take into account in-field soil moisture variation in the center pivot runs to reduce water consumption locally. Soil moisture is never evenly distributed across a field. It can vary highly from one area to another, and you should optimize irrigation accordingly – or at least be aware of the high and low values.

 

4. Deploy the Controlled Deficit Irrigation strategy

Deploy the Controlled Deficit Irrigation (CDI) strategy to put just the right center pivot irrigation CDIlevel of stress on plants to achieve higher crop quality and save lots of water while suffering only a tolerable yield loss. Without continuously monitoring the actual root-zone soil moisture, this delicate balancing comes with an unacceptable risk of total crop failure.

 

Download our full four-step description for a detailed description.

 

Soil Monitoring in Center Pivot Irrigation – Is there an easy way to do it?

Running center pivot irrigation systems and managing a comprehensive underground soil moisture measurement system simultaneously in the same area is complicated with traditional solutions.

There is an easy way, now! The new wireless underground soil monitoring solution doesn’t affect center pivot operations. Farmers can simply bury wireless soil sensors in different parts of the field at different depths. The Soil Scout sensors measure underground soil moisture, temperature, and salinity, and upload the data every 20 minutes. Farmers can see the information on a smartphone or laptop continuously and in real-time.

Based on this data, farmers can follow long-term trends, compare root-zone soil moisture in different areas, and plan the center pivot irrigation runs in an optimized way – to improve productivity, reduce water consumption, and save operating costs!

The wireless soil sensors are easy to install; simply dug them into the soil. They do not have cables, so farmers can place them deep enough to stay safe from the center pivot wheels. The battery can operate up to 20 years underground; no maintenance is needed.

 

soil moisture sensor

 

How to Estimate the Center Pivot Irrigation Cost Savings?

Center pivot irrigation diesel and electricity expenditure varies from one farm to another based on the amount of pumped water, water source, fuel consumption, the price of diesel per liter, cost of electricity per kWh, and many, many other reasons. However, based on rule-of-thumb assumptions, savings of up to 50% can be achieved as per the diagram below.

 

irrigation water savings

 

The irrigation optimization guide explains more about how to estimate water savings. With the below calculation model, you can estimate the potential cost savings in a specific scenario.

 

HOW TO ESTIMATE DIESEL/ELECTRICITY COST SAVINGS PER CENTER PIVOT SYSTEM

 

Cost of diesel per 1 acre-inch according to the University of Georgia, 2019 (electricity $7.00):

$12.50

Estimated Acre-inches of irrigation per year (qty of irrigation runs):

15

Assumption of irrigated surface area per center pivot system (acres):

136

The calculated total cost of diesel per year:

$25,500

Estimate how much water you can save through optimized irrigation practices

 

1 Obtain the Optimal Soil Moisture – potential saving:

10%

2 React on Incidential Rainfalls Accurately – potential saving:

20%

3 Optimize Irrigation based on in-field soil moisture variations – potential saving: 

10%

4 Deploy Controlled Deficit Irrigation (CDI) strategy – potential saving:

10%

Estimated water savings in total: 50%

Potential yearly savings in diesel costs:

$12,750

Investment lifetime in years (Soil Scout sensor runs 20 years underground without maintenance):

20

Estimation of the total diesel cost savings during the investment lifetime:

$255,000

Net Present Value (NPV) of the potential savings (rate of return 7%):

$135,074

   

What’s the payback time for the Soil Scout wireless underground soil monitoring solution?

Contact the Soil Scout sales team to find out!

 

The UN World Water Report 2020 – What Does it Say About Agriculture?

agriculture irrigation

There isn’t another human need as critical as clean water. Despite this, according to the UN World Water Development Report 2020, 2.2 billion people currently do not have access to safely managed drinking water, and 4.2 billion live without carefully managed sanitation.

The UN’s Water Report says that agriculture uses the most water globally – 69%. Read this blog for our key take-aways on water usage in farming!

Introduction

Global water use has increased sixfold over the past century. It is rising by approximately 1% a year.

UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6, which is part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, aims to guarantee access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all people within ten years.

This goal is admirable, but unfortunately, and as the report also concludes, it is threatened by global climate change, which is severely affecting the availability, quality, and quantity of water needed for safe drinking and sanitation.

Agriculture Water Usage

Agriculture is the biggest user of water. It accounts for 69 percent of global water withdrawals.

agriculture water usage

Global agriculture water withdrawal

The climate change, the increasing temperatures, and drought will hit the irrigation land used by agriculture dramatically. Although it only accounts for 2.5% of the total land area, it represents 20% of all cultivated land and generates some 40% of the global agricultural output.

This makes climate change, shortage of water resources a treat to the world’s food production. Also, water withdrawal, diversion, application, and drainage can produce long-term environmental externalities such as groundwater depletion, soil salinization, and pollution from runoff and drainage.

Water Usage in Livestock

agriculture irrigation livestock

Meat production, including beef, pork, poultry, and sheep, is expected to grow 77% by 2030 in developing countries. Also, non-ruminants, i.e., pigs and poultry are expected to see high growth rates.

Consequently, livestock water withdrawal will grow too, and not only due to the evapotranspiration on grazing land. Livestock also requires extensive watering and cooling of live animals as well as irrigation water for the production of fodder and imported protein concentrate such as soya or grain.

Given this expected growth, the extent of grazing land and its sensitivity to drought are essential, since feed substitutes such as soya and cereals are predominantly rainfed and are likely to be impacted unless production is buffered by irrigation.

UN’s Water Strategies: Adaptation and Mitigation  

The UN water report promotes two complementary strategies in resolving the water challenge: adaptation and mitigation.

While it is essential for water management to adapt to climate change and to address increasing water stress for agriculture and industry, water management can also play a vital role in the mitigation of climate change. Concrete water efficiency measures can have a direct effect on energy savings, which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Specific water management interventions such as conservation agriculture, wetland protection, and other nature-based solutions can help to sequester carbon in biomass and soils.

Advanced wastewater treatment can help reduce GHG emissions while supplying biogas as a source of renewable energy.

How Can Technology Help to Combat Water Challenge?

The UN report sees that technology can have a critical role in managing the global water crisis. The integration of science, technology, and innovation policies into water development strategies can contribute to raising efficiency, improving resilience, and fostering the transition towards sustainability within the water sector.

Innovation provides more affordable and efficient technological tools, enables their implementation, and is indeed central to bringing water-related scientific knowledge and technology into practice.

Science, technologies, and innovation are rapidly evolving, and they continue to support several water-related management activities, including

  • overall assessment and monitoring of water resources and hydrological processes
  • conservation, recovery, and reuse of water resources
  • adaptation of infrastructures
  • cost reduction in treatment and distribution processes
  • the efficiency of water supply delivery and use
  • access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Several innovations in the water sector have deepened the collective understanding of climate-related challenges and provided new ways to adapt to climate change and to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

How Soil Scout Helps Farmers Reduce Water Usage?

In agriculture, water can be saved by optimizing irrigation. However, you can do this only if you can measure soil moisture reliably!

Only ~ 30 percent of the significant agronomic phenomena occur above ground, while the majority (~70%) of it takes place underground. Despite this, traditional precision agriculture and farming data applications only observe how the above-the-ground weather affects plant growth. This data doesn’t enable farmers to optimize irrigation efficiently!

Soil Scout provides farmers the easiest solution for monitoring underground soil information such as moisture, salinity, and temperature continuously using a wireless solution. With Soil Scout, you can follow long-term correlations between soil moisture and crop yield, optimizing your irrigation while increasing productivity – and saving water!

Learn more about Soil Scout’s wireless underground soil monitoring solution!

soil moisture sensor

 

How to Optimize Soil Moisture for Best Crop Productivity?

optimize soil moisture for best crop productivity

As a farmer, you probably know how drought can impact your crops. But, did you know that even short periods of reduced soil moisture diminishes crop growth, and lowers your profitability?

The problem is that it is almost impossible to optimize underground soil moisture by measuring the above-the-ground weather with rain gauges, aerial images, or drones. 

There is a smarter way, though. With underground wireless soil sensors, you can monitor root-zone soil moisture accurately, and see the data in real-time. The sensors are easy to install, no cables are needed, and they run 20 years underground without maintenance.

Read this blog to learn how to optimize soil moisture by using underground sensors!  

(The findings are based on recent research on the effect of soil moisture on plant growth – you can download the full research report.) 

How Does Soil Moisture Affect Plant Growth?

There’s a common misbelief that only severe drought limits crop growth. It’s true that total crop failure only occurs when plants wilt permanently, but recent research conducted with underground soil sensors clearly shows that yield losses start to develop much earlier – immediately when root-zone soil moisture falls below the optimal range.

Even a small water deficiency has several negative impacts on plants. Less water means less photosynthesis, which means lost growth. Simultaneously, less water uptake means less nutrient uptake.

optimal soil moisture diagram

Diagram from the research: the areas with the highest yields stayed within the optimal soil moisture window throughout the entire growing season – 100% of the time. In comparison, the lowest yield area had optimal soil moisture level, only 25% of the time.

Also, when root-zone soil moisture is not optimal, plants waste energy in obtaining water from the soil, which has an inadequate water supply. In other words, the energy, which the plant would typically use for growing, is partially lost because it is now spent on water uptake.

These are the reasons why water availability is the most critical growth factor, and even short periods of insufficient soil moisture reduces growth, productivity, and profitability.

Don’t Measure Weather When You Want to Understand Soil!

Farmers have always put in their best effort to ensure that their fields provide sufficient moisture for plants. However, with the traditional methods and tools, it has been nearly impossible to measure and manage soil moisture accurately. Above-ground observation appliances do not provide the needed underground soil insight. Why?

Firstly, the rain gauges that most farms use to get even a slight understanding of their plants’ growing conditions are not good for estimating underground soil moisture. Actual root-zone water availability is a combination of initial status, drainage, capillary water rise, plant transpiration, and evaporation – and they all vary a lot even within the same field, and that cannot be measured with a rain gauge.

Secondly, the intensity of a single rain event can easily vary 50% per every half a kilometer. Different parts of a field do not get an equal amount of water. This is yet another reason why soil moisture varies a lot within a field, which results in uneven growth.

Thirdly, single-spot soil sensors are not practical because every part of the field is different. Regional ET models and water deficiency estimates are no better in revealing the huge differences within your fields, not to mention answering the essential questions:

  • How severe is the actual moisture deficiency in the root-zone?
  • Which parts of the field are affected?
  • For how long have those regions suffered from restricted growth?

Clearly, observations on what happens in the air do not give you accurate information about the underground soil moisture. These inaccurate estimations lead to management-by-guesswork, and you end up reacting to damage that has already occurred.

So, why don’t you ask the soil itself?

How to use Wireless Underground Soil Sensors?

soil moisture sensor

With the new wireless soil monitoring technology, you don’t have to settle for guesswork based on weather observations, and inconsistent sampling!

You can bury underground wireless soil sensors in different parts of your field at different depths. The Soil Scout sensors measure underground soil moisture, temperature, and salinity, and upload the data every 20 minutes. You can see the information on your smartphone or laptop.

Based on this data, you can easily follow long-term trends, compare root-level soil moisture in different areas, and treat each area in an optimized way – and improve productivity across your fields.

The wireless soil sensors are easy to install; you simply bury them. They do not have cables, so you can dig them deep enough to stay safe from your machinery. You can go on with your farming as if there were no sensors! The battery can operate up to 20 years underground; no maintenance is needed.

With permanently buried soil sensors, installed in the root zone, below the plants, your soil moisture management becomes fast, easy, and accurate. When sensors are placed in carefully chosen locations, they allow you to observe and learn moisture trends from season to season, and improve productivity, year by year.

Download the Soil Scout solution description.

In Conclusion

Soil moisture varies significantly in different parts of a field, which causes variable yields, and reduces overall efficiency and productivity.

You can only manage what you measure! With Soil Scout underground sensors, you can find the root cause of low yield areas, identify regions, which require improved water-holding, or better drainage, see when irrigation is needed, and observe correct dosage, and add fertilizer only where plants benefit from it.

In other words, you can finally manage soil moisture! 

The findings are based on recent research on the effect of soil moisture on plant growth – you can download the full research report. It provides actionable guidelines for using Soil Scout to collaborate with your soil, to produce the best possible crop!

Learn how accurate underground soil data enables you to increase crop productivity! Contact our sales team!

Alternative method to choose Scout locations 2 – Veristech


While in-field variation of farming soils has for a while been assessed by different kinds cameras, methods that actually get involved with the dirt are becoming commercially available as well. Today among the very first farms in Finland, the field plots at Soil Scout trial farm were scanned by Juha and Jussi Knaapi with a combination of an on-the-go Veristech soil scanner and a Wintex soil sampler

The scanner measures three soil parameters on the fly: 1) conductivity, 2) NIR organic content and 3) pH. Note the water tank on the scanner – the water is used for the mandatory washing of the pH sensor after every sample analysis (which is why Soil Scout does not include pH sensing).

Once the scan is complete, the soil organic matter (SOM) map remains a relative heat map. This is why the system finally decides 3 locations for collecting soil samples: a high, an average and a low NIR value point. These points are then sampled with the Wintex and sent for accurate laboratory SOM analysis to provide calibration values for the remaining map.

This above described method applies the basic cost saving philosophy of using smart techniques to decide a few points of high interest and then measuring those by sophisticated means. Which is exactly what Soil Scout does regarding the continuous monitoring of soil moisture and temperature conditions: choosing the essential locations based on vegetative observations and recommending those for Soil Scout sensor points.

This summer we will be able to compare up to 6 different methods to define in-field zoning and bring our experiences to the benefit of our Soil Scout customers. The mapping is carried out in co-operation with the MIKÄ DATA research program at the Pori university center.

Alternative method to choose Scout locations 1 – Geocarta


A strict grid method for collecting soil samples or installing soil sensors is a very ineffective approach as it will produce lots of unnecessary data points and a high cost. The most frequently used method for the Soil Scout team in helping farmers choose the most beneficial locations for instrumentation within their fields is to recognize good/average/poor growing spots from infrared satellite image browsers, such as the Sentinel Playground. After all, there is no telling beforehand whether a poorly growing spot is too wet or too dry – but surely it is not optimal.

Today a more hands-on approach to identify soil texture zones was tried out at the Soil Scout trial farm in Ulvila, Finland. A patrol from the Geocarta visited the fields with their on-the-go soil resistivity mapper. Their soil texture mapping philosophy is identical to ours: where to collect productive soil samples for a detailed laboratory analysis is chosen by mapping the apparent resistivity variations and identifying zones, which differ from each other for a fact, but the actual characteristics remain unknown until the soil samples have been analysed.

Once the raw data has been post processed, we will soon find out how the soil texture maps correlate to the observed yield potential differences within the fields, and how well the soil sampling coordinates will correlate to our selection of Soil Scout sensor locations! The mapping is carried out in co-operation with the MIKÄ DATA research program at the Pori university center.

Soil Scout joins Cleantech Finland

Cleantech Finland

Soil Scout is proud to have been accepted as a member of Cleantech Finland, and to be recognised as a company driving a sustainable future through improved resources efficiency in Agriculture and other industries.

Cleantech Finland is a network of top Cleantech companies and experts. They bring the world’s best Cleantech solutions and expertise to companies and public-sector organisations that have environmental or energy-efficiency problems that need solving. They also connect potential investors and partners with the best Cleantech experts in the market.