Last spring it was a very dry period. But how dry exactly and how much does a grower need to irrigate? With the right equipment the drought can be measured exactly and optimal irrigation can be calculated, because measuring is knowing.
As grower you don’t have to be a meteorologist to determine that there is extreme drought or too much moisture in the soil. With a shovel and common sense you come a long way, but in the end it’s still a guess. It can be very useful to know exactly how much moisture there is in the soil. This way you can irrigate very accurately.
Bulb grower Maarten Breg of Boon & Breg from Andijk has encountered this himself. Since five years he uses measuring equipment to measure the amount of soil moisture.
“The big advantage is that this way, we get a better insight of what happens in the ground. You can stick a shovel or pole in the ground, but this isn’t accurate.”
Boon & Breg choose the equipment of Dacom, a company based in Emmen. This company has a lot of experience with measuring soil moisture in the agriculture. In total Boon & Breg has six measuring stations. They use one for each parcel. The stations consists of two parts: a pole with a transmitter and a pole with sensors. The pole with sensors is installed in the ground for about 60 centimeters. Every 10 centimeter there is a sensor that measures soil moisture and soil temperature. The sensor is connected to the transmitter on the pole. The transmitter is also connected to rain gauge. The transmitter automatically sends the data to the company.
The grower can see a graph on his computer of the amount of precipitation of a certain period. You can also see how deep the moisture penetrated the soil in a certain period. This is the layer with the densest rooting. If the roots can’t absorb water any more, the graph will indicate that the deepest sensors observe more moisture.
The increased insight in the soil moisture changed the work flow, Breg argues. “You will irrigate differently. Earlier, we just felt the ground. Nowadays you irrigate for 20 millimeters, or 10 if the soil can’t handle more. You can argue this decision with the equipment. It appears that it’s better to irrigate 10 millimeters twice instead of 20 millimeters once. If there is no moisture absorption by the crop, irrigation is ineffective. You just wash away the minerals. You need to irrigate in such a way that no water is lost to the underlying layers. “
Besides the amount of moisture, Breg can also read how much moisture the crop evaporates. The Dacom program adds data and can make a forecast. And exactly this is very valuable according to Breg.
“Because it doesn’t matter what the soil moisture is. What the crop does with it, that’s important.”
You can reach the system from any place on earth. Because Boon & Breg grow in the Flevopolder (the Netherlands) and in Chile so this is a big asset. “We grow at a distance so it’s hard to get a good understand of the crop. Now I see exactly what is happening.
Because the data is stored on a central location, Dacom can watch along with the customers. This is an important asset, argues Altjo Medema of Dacom. “Certainly, at the start growers have about how to interpret the graph. That is understandable. It’s better that they ask a hundred times than not using our equipment for a year because they don’t know how to work with it.”
We can sign in in Andijk and see the precipitation of the Flevopolder. This is very useful if you want to go there. If you use this system and see that there is a lot of precipitation, you know that you can’t do anything in the field and so it’s better to stay at home.”
Boon & Breg use one station per parcel of five to ten acres. This should be sufficient, but Breg thinks improvements are possible. “A downside is that in bulb growing, there is a high variety of products. All products differ in moisture absorption and rooting. I’d rather have five measuring points in one parcel.” Medema doesn’t rule out that, in the future, multiple sensors can be connected to the same transmitter, like Breg says. This technology already exists. A set with a sensor and a transmitter costs 2200 euro. Quite an investment, acknowledges Medema. “But when I started eight years ago, one station cost 3500 euros. The amount nearly halved because the components have become cheaper. This way, the equipment comes within reach for more entrepreneurs.“
Medema expects that in the future, the applications will increase even further. For example, the company works on a simplified software program that can also be used on a tablet and smartphone. Also, the stations are easy to install by the customer, so no installation fee is needed.
It’s hard to estimate when you earn back the investment in the station. “It’s hard to trace. The most important thing is, that you start to irrigate early. This is possible with this equipment. Then you can earn back the investment at the end of the season. If start to irrigate late, even by a few days, you will have less yield at the end of the season.”