FOCUS ON: The Sensor-smart Irrigation Project

Helping farmers to make better use of Tasmania's water resources is a key focus of three of Sense-T's current Industry Research Projects: Water Management, Irrigation Gateway, and Sensor-smart Irrigation.

The Sense-T Sensor-smart Irrigation project is a $600 000 collaboration between the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA), the University of Tasmania's ICT Discipline, and the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA).


Tasmania makes up just 1% of the Australian landmass but receives 13% of the continent's total rainfall runoff.

With such an abundance of water it may be a surprise to many people that Tasmania experiences frequent drought and much of its farmland is so dry that it's used only for sheep farming.

Most of the rain falls on the rainforests and wilderness of the West Coast and never reaches the main farming areas.

Massive investment in irrigation schemes by government, farmers and investors is making a difference, but water remains a precious resource and irrigating is still a costly activity.

That's why helping farmers to make better use of Tasmania's water resources is a key focus of three of Sense-T's current Industry Research Projects: Water Management, Irrigation Gateway, and Sensor-smart Irrigation.Marcus Hardie and Sue Hinton

The Sense-T Sensor-smart Irrigation project is a $600 000 collaboration between the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA), the University of Tasmania's ICT Discipline, and the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA).

The Project's focus is closely aligned with other key work in this area such as the Water for Profit program and AgriGrowth Tasmania.

Over the next 17-months the project will use on-farm research and sensors to inform the development of a smartphone app to help farmers decide when and how much to irrigate on their land.

The app will be tailored to their individual irrigation systems and soil and crop types, helping to improve water use efficiency and agricultural sustainability.

Project Lead Sue Hinton (pictured with Researcher Marcus Hardie) says farmers need access to more accurate and timely data to help them to make better irrigation management decisions and get the most out of their investment in water.

"We want to develop a practical tool that allows farmers to make sound and sustainable irrigation management decisions on a day to day basis, as well as to assist in seasonal and longer term on-farm water resource planning and management.

"Experience from other regions demonstrates the efficiency, sustainability and profitability of centre pivot irrigations systems can be dramatically improved by adoption of irrigation scheduling tools and variable rate irrigation (VRI) technology.

"Irrigation scheduling is not a new problem and many devices and approaches have been developed to try to address the problem."

Ms Hinton says the app is all about giving farmers the information at their fingertips on their smartphone, to help them decide when, how much and where in the crop to irrigate.

"What is novel about this approach is the degree of existing and new data which will be integrated into a single approach that in itself will be designed by agri-business consultants and farmers."

The app and associated software will be the only system that integrates existing soil mapping, seven day weather forecasting and future application of machine learning sensor calibration and crop modelling.

Published on: 17 Aug 2015