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Sensor system monitors soil water ‘bank account’

PETER BUSS second from right Adelaide Australia came to Mississippi to discuss how soil moisture probes can help farmers achieve more efficient irrigation With him are from left Jason Giesbrecht Brooksville Miss Justin Prather Southern Ag Consulting Leland Miss and Bernie White Starkville Miss
<p><em><strong>PETER BUSS, second from right, Adelaide, Australia, came to Mississippi to discuss how soil moisture probes can help farmers achieve more efficient irrigation. With him are, from left, Jason Giesbrecht, Brooksville, Miss.; Justin Prather, Southern Ag Consulting, Leland, Miss.; and Bernie White, Starkville, Miss.</strong></em></p>
Soil moisture sensors can help farmers achieve water and energy savings, optimize fertility, pesticide and labor, boost yields, improve crop quality and consistency of product, as well as salinity management.

Peter Buss came all the way from Australia to tell Mississippi farmers how they can better monitor soil moisture to insure that their crops get the water they need, when they need it, in the right amount.

“The state where I’m from, Adelaide, is one of the driest states in a dry country,” he told producers at a Macon, Miss., meeting. Most of Adelaide is desert, he says, and irrigation efficiency is a necessity for crop production.

For 23 years, Sentek Technology, of which he is a co-founder and an inventor of intellectual property, has been manufacturing soil moisture sensors “that provide producers with data that allow them to make better irrigation decisions,” he says.

Buss, manager of agronomic research and development, likens soil water content to “a bank account,” from which the crop draws needed moisture.

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“Our systems are in use in over 70 countries, in environments as harsh as Peru’s Atacamba desert or the mountains of Mongolia, in production systems ranging from horticulture to viticulture, row crops, pastures, floriculture, and silviculture, with a wide range of irrigation systems,” he says.

Among benefits the systems offer, Buss says, are water and energy savings, optimization of fertility, pesticide and labor savings, increased yields, improved crop quality, consistency of product, salinity management, and others.

“By using water at the right time — not just willy-nilly — you can improve yields and quality,” he says. “Too often, growers start watering when plants don’t really need it, wasting water, energy, and labor. By monitoring that need accurately, that water can be saved until later when the plant really needs it.”

The crop plant “is the ultimate sensor,” he says, “and we should ask the plant what it needs.”

The Sentek Drill & Drop probes are available in 12, 24, 36, and 48 inch lengths, with sensors fixed at 4 inch increments. They can include soil moisture plus temperature sensors, or soil moisture plus temperature and salinity sensors.

“With its ease of installation and protected electronics, the Drill & Drop is ideally suited to situations where a monitoring probe may need to be moved between sites in short term and annual crops,” Buss says.

Long-term installations

“With the electronics completely encapsulated, being able to completely bury the probe makes it suited to long term installations, where machinery will pass often, such as dry land and feed crops. Being able to leave the probe in the ground means long term, uninterrupted data trends and comparison between seasons are possible.”

JASON KRUTZ, second from right, Mississippi State University Extension irrigation specialist, visits with, from left, Dean Schmidt, Okolona, Miss.; Mitt Wardlaw, Starkville, Miss.; and Billy Koos, Orlando, Fla., at a Macon, Miss., irrigation seminar.

The probe’s direct installation method means it is measuring ‘real,’ representative soil conditions immediately after it is installed, he says, because the surrounding soil has not been disturbed.

 “The onset of water stress might not be immediately detectable to the eye,” Buss says. “With a crop such as corn, every single day counts in making optimum yield. In just 15 days of water stress, you can lose as much as half of your yield. If you can accurately detect the onset of stress, you can be more timely in meeting the plants’ water needs.

“The more days you can keep plants happy, the more yield and more dollars you can realize.”

Justin Prather, with Southern Ag Consulting at Starkville, Miss., which sponsored Buss’ Mississippi sessions with growers, says High Yield Ag Solutions, also at Starkville, offers a fully automated network for around-the-clock monitoring of soil moisture levels. High Yield Ag is a partnership between KTS Wireless, which provides the technology, and Southern Ag Consulting, which offers agronomy services.

Southern Ag Consulting offers its growers the High Yield Ag sensor that uses the 36 inch Sentek probe and KTS telemetry and ASR manager software.

It includes the Sentek probes, which are dropped into holes made with a cordless drill and specially-tapered bit. A single small cable is routed underground to a cellular wireless mast that holds a communications module, antennas, and a battery to power the site for an entire growing season.

The probes can be programmed to collect readings from all sensors every 0.5 to 6 hours and transmit them to a secure database. The user has access to all collected data at all times.

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