New UF-developed mobile apps aid irrigation
A trio of new smart device apps released by the University of Florida/IFAS will make irrigation easier and more efficient for citrus, strawberry and urban turf grass growers. The innovative tools are designed to be easy to use, said research team member Kati Migliaccio, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at UF's Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead. They combine real-time weather data and irrigation science with simple user input to produce site-specific irrigation run-times. The apps rely on constantly updated data from the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) and the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network. Each of the three apps is tailored to a specific crop. For example, the strawberry app is based on drip irrigation. The citrus app works for micro-sprinkler systems. And the urban turf grass app provides guidance for five different types of sprinklers.The apps are practical extensions of the well-known and widely used capabilities of the FAWN system, which delivers real-time ET or evapotranspirtation data. "FAWN just provides you with the data," Migliaccio said. "It doesn't actually do the math required to convert that ET information into an irrigation schedule. What these new tools do is take ET information from FAWN, combine it with additional information put in by the user, and develop an irrigation schedule." Then a grower can set a timer for precise irrigation. The result is a more automated process that is easier and faster. It can also be done from anywhere with a mobile device. The apps are designed for use with manual or time-based irrigation systems. Users download the app, plug in their individual details, such as location, root depth and irrigation zones, and the app uses that input and site-specific weather data to create an irrigation schedule. The system also gives users notifications based on changing weather and forecasts. For instance, the app might suggest that if there is a chance of rain above 60 percent that irrigation might not be necessary. Or if there has been significant rainfall in the last 24 hours, the app might suggest skipping irrigation for a day. Migliaccio predicted the urban turf grass app will reduce irrigation amounts by 25 to 30 percent, if suggested schedules are followed. Potential water savings from using the citrus and strawberry apps for irrigation scheduling are still being quantified. The app covers users in Florida and Georgia and is compatible with the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android devices. It is available to download in the App Store and Google Play Store. The apps' names in the stores are Smartirrigation Citrus, Smartirrigation Strawberry, and Smartirrigation Turf. The development of the new apps, which was funded by USDA via Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, is a significant step in innovative farming, said Tom Kirschner, director of grove operations at 7,000-acre, Immokalee-based citrus grower Cooperative Producers, Inc., an early adopter during development. "It's a very useful tool," Kirschner said. "Growers can use it to analyze water needs daily without having to go to a computer. You can look at your irrigation needs on a phone from anywhere. Because it's pulling the data from the FAWN system, I can use it to program my irrigation under any kind of weather conditions and it can immediately show me, in a couple of seconds, how I need to adjust my irrigation." The essential practical benefit, Kirschner said, is improved efficiency -- a faster, easier process. "It also allows me to be more accurate with my irrigation," he said. And in turn, that helps growers save money and better protect precious water resources by being more efficient in their irrigation. UF/IFAS researchers will be working with other researchers through Southwest Climate Consortium, based at UF, to create irrigation apps for avocado, cabbage, cotton, peanut and tomato growers. The first to be released will be the cotton app next March. Another future step will be the addition and integration into the apps of rainfall data and drought strategies. That will further optimize capabilities for dealing most effectively and efficiently with Florida's cycles from wet to dry seasons. "And if we can help people develop better irrigation schedules year-round, that will help them save even more water," Migliaccio said. The other researchers involved in the development of the new apps were Clyde Fraisse, an associate professor in agricultural and biological engineering; Kelly Morgan, an associate professor in soil and water science, and George Vellidis, a professor who specializes in precision agriculture and water management at the University of Georgia's Tifton campus. For more information on the new apps, visit smartirrigationapps.org. To download a step-by-step information guide for the urban turf grass app from the UF/IFAS Electronic Data Information Source, visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ae499 .