Irrigation System Talks to Plants to Find Out When they Need Water — Cutting Water Use by 30-50%
If only plants could talk, what tidings they could share! Fortunately for farmers, an agricultural company has ‘translated’ the biochemical signal related to certain plant behavior, allowing them to ‘listen’ to plants cries for water when they’re thirsty.
It has the capacity to reduce water use in any system, from a well-manicured lawn to a rural vegetable farm in North Africa, and compared to drip irrigation which is based on a similar idea, it can reduce water use by 30-50%, revolutionizing the science and methods of irrigation in the face of a warming climate, longer droughts, and water shortages.
Responsive Drip Irrigation (DRI) has designed a watering system that installs tubes under the earth filled with pore-like depressions. As plants begin to get thirsty they produce a certain chemical in their roots. The micropores in the tubes in turn detect this chemical and release a water drip that will continue until it detects the plants have drunk their fill.
In the United Arab Emirates near Abu Dhabi, farmers are growing vegetables in the desert, and DRI won the startup of the year 2019 at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture, while in Pakistan near the dry area around Islamabad, vegetables like tomatoes and bok choy were grown 81% faster and twice as large, respectively, than with regular drip irrigation.
In fact, DRI is established in 14 countries, from rural Zimbabwe to lawns in Utah and Los Angeles in the U.S.
The biggest hurdle stopping RDI from changing the industry is that existing methods of irrigation are already established and paid for. Convincing farmers to make the switch could be difficult, especially in certain areas, like California, where the irrigation systems have not only been around for decades, but link multiple farms and orchards like a spider’s web.
Yet “wherever there’s an issue with water scarcity and food security, we want to be there,” Jan Gould, founder of Responsive Drip Irrigation, told Fast Company.