The team at WaterBit has built a water-saving solution that proposes to use the power of sensors and connectivity to put an intelligent crop watering solution into the hands of farmers. It does this with a complex array of sensors and solar-powered communication hubs that give farmers unprecedented insights into crop behavior across the entire farm, driving savings of water of up to 40% while maintaining or increasing overall crop yield.
With such impressive claims on the line, CleanTechnica sat down with WaterBit Chairman TJ Rodgers to talk through the solution to understand what WaterBit can do for farmers and how exactly it accomplishes its objectives to see if the claims held water.
The WaterBit Autonomous Irrigation Solution
WaterBit was founded on the premise of creating what TJ calls ‘the internet of plants’. Plants, whether small surface plants with shallow roots, old growth vineyards, or vast swaths of avocado trees, all need water, but the amount of water they use and where in the soil they pull it from have largely been guesswork.
With a background in semiconductors, TJ aspired to bundle the energy-efficient chips he had developed in his previous career with small solar panels to create low power radio frequency communication systems using LoRa radios that he could sprinkle around the farms in the central valley of California and beyond to give farmers insights into what was actually happening in their farms.
To make it even easier to get the information from the farm to the internet, the team used the standard Internet Protocol packet design to ensure they could flow directly to the internet without having to be translated.
With the concept for the communication backbone ironed out, TJ and the team at WaterBit tied in their unique system of sensors that measure the Volumetric Water Content (VWC) of the soil at different depths 6 times every 15 minutes, which are then grouped together into ‘microblocks’. These sensors were specifically designed not to interfere with farming machinery and to send the resulting data through the radio frequency network up to the internet on a set frequency.
Informed Decision Making
The combination of data and connectivity to WaterBit’s Autonomous Irrigation Solution puts deep insights into the palm of farmers hands via a smartphone app or via a computer. To empower farmers to take action based on the newly accessible information, WaterBit also has the capability to remotely manage irrigation valves with the installation of valve controllers.
WaterBit uses latching water valves that take advantage of hydrostatic pressure to open the valve, making them well-suited for an environment where solenoids just can’t handle the task of opening agricultural water valves.
Water is typically metered out based on fixed quantity per plant or by letting water run down furrows, so giving farmers what essentially amounts to X-ray vision into the soil beneath their crops, vineyards, and orchards is a look into a world previously unseen.
WaterBit isn’t just talking about its lab results and basing its claims on the farm it was developed on. Rather, it has customers out in the real world like Devine Organics, which doubled the vegetable yield of its fields while at the same time cutting water use by 6% since installing the WaterBit system.
Perhaps even more impressive is that those savings were from a small 40-acre plot of asparagus that Devine piloted the WaterBit solution on at the end of last year. Even on this small plot of land, that 6% water savings translates to a mind-boggling 750,000 gallons of water saved, while at the same time, the production on the plot doubled.
The Price Tag
The typical cost of WaterBit for vineyards is $2500 per acre to deploy, plus $1000 per year to maintain the system. For row crops, the cost is about the same, but for 10 acres worth.
Many farms employ a team of workers responsible for managing the water flow at various levels, and it is one of the more manual and expensive parts of running a farm. Bringing in a solution that pairs relevant data with meaningful insights into the actual water needs of their crops, and empowering them to implement the right controls from a smartphone, means farmers can do more with less.
With 80% of the water in drought-prone California going to agriculture, every single percent of water that farms can save means more water for future generations. Plus, the wine produced from California’s famed Napa Valley is best when it gets the perfect amount of water – and who doesn’t want better wine…at a lower price?
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