Computer irrigation system reduces water usage - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Computer irrigation system reduces water usage

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April 21, 2006

Albany - Southwest Georgia farmers are battling dry weather as planting season begins. That means they must rely more on irrigation systems to water crops. 

Friday,  a group of leaders in water conservation demonstrated some high-tech irrigation equipment now used at 20 farms in this area. It's expected to save those farms more than 170-million gallons of water this year.

It's called Variable Rate Irrigation, or VRI. It was developed by The Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission, The Nature Conservancy, The Natural Resource Conservation Service and The University of Georgia. The high-tech system uses GPS, or global positioning, to map the fields. The farmer decides which parts of the field need waters, how much and how often.

"We sat down with producer and went through and mapped the areas the needed 50%, 40%, 30% or whatever rate of water it needed. We put those in program, charted everything in and saved it to a disk. It's loaded into a computer controller which is out at the center pivot point," said Graham Ginn, The Nature Conservancy. 

From there, the VRI turns on and off water nozzles and varies the speed to conserve water over areas without crops or those normally over saturated while irrigating.

"This particular system right here has the ability to save 20-million gallons of water in a dry year. That's a 20% water saving," said Ginn. 

20 southwest Georgia farms along the Flint River Basin are now using VRI. And they've reduced their water usage by 17%.

Merlyn Carlson said, "It will save water, save soil, save nutrients and save dollars."

Developers demonstrated the VRI to the Deputy Under Secretary for the USDA, Merlyn Carlson.

"We know we are going to have to do more with less. This does that very thing."

Carlson says conservation techniques like the VRI save water, a precious natural resource while still allowing farmers to grow the food America and the world depends on.

"We're told in the next twenty years we need to double our food production because of the growing population of the world," Carlson. 

Now, the VRI system cost more than $20,000. But developers say as with any new technology, with time those cost will go down. That will allow more farmers to save money and water.

The conservation agencies are also testing broadband technology that measure moisture in the soil. Moisture meters in the field send signals to the broadband towers. Farmers can use the information to determine the amount of water needed on the crops on any given day.

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