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Micro-irrigation system could cut India’s water use by 80%

A cloud-based, micro-irrigation system tested on a farm in India has cut water use by up to 80%, doubled the crop yield and could relieve the environmental stress that agriculture places on India’s natural resources.

The system, developed by scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh (UK), combines a highly localised weather forecast with local know-how on irrigation needs and soil conditions and has been trialled as part of the Innovate UK-funded Smart Control of Rural Renewable Energy and Storage (SCORRES) project.

At a trial farm in Tamil Nadu, 8 vegetable crops have been farmed using the SCORRES precision irrigation system. Photo: SCORRES
At a trial farm in Tamil Nadu, 8 vegetable crops have been farmed using the SCORRES precision irrigation system. Photo: SCORRES

Agriculture uses 90% of fresh water

According to SCORRES, agriculture accounts for 90% of India’s freshwater withdrawal. 54% of India faces extremely high water stress, and farmers are increasingly indebted due to the volatility of crop yields and prices. At the trial farm in Tamil Nadu, 8 vegetable crops have been farmed using the SCORRES precision irrigation system:

  1. lady’s fingers
  2. lettuce
  3. basil
  4. basella
  5. pumpkin
  6. corn
  7. rocket
  8. long beans.

SCORRES refines the irrigation schedule

Local farmers’ knowledge on irrigation and soil conditions for each of these crops are scheduled onto the cloud-based system. SCORRES refines the irrigation schedule by using its local weather forecast, soil moisture conditions, evaporation modelling and grid outage information to continually adapt the schedule and ensure the crops receive exactly the right volume of water, at the exact time that they need it.

The system combines a highly localised weather forecast with local know-how on irrigation needs and soil conditions. Photo: SCORRES
The system combines a highly localised weather forecast with local know-how on irrigation needs and soil conditions. Photo: SCORRES

Martin Scherfler from Auroville Consulting, a SCORRES partner, oversaw the installation of the irrigation system and has been monitoring the field trials in Tamil Nadu. “This project removes the need for costly hardware, and creates a more affordable, cloud-based solution for smart irrigation. Indian farmers are enthusiastic about using the cloud and digital devices to improve their farming and have worked with us to make this trial a success: their knowledge has been fundamental in developing the model.”

Expanding the trial across India and into China

The SCORRES project is funded by Innovate UK and led by Heriot-Watt University. Professor Eddie Owens, director of Heriot-Watt University’s Energy Academy and leader of the SCORRES project, said: “Our irrigation system reduced water and energy use by up to 80%, and in some of the trials the crop yield doubled, enabling farmers to grow bigger vegetables and fruits, faster. These results are extremely encouraging and have the potential to create a more resource efficient and sustainable future for the global agricultural sector. A next step will be to expand our trial across India and into China.”

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