Sensor-based irrigation systems show potential to increase greenhouse profitability

February 25, 2014

Wireless sensor-based irrigation systems can offer significant benefits to greenhouse operators. Advances in sensor technology and increased understanding of plant physiology have made it possible for greenhouse growers to use water content sensors to accurately determine irrigation timing and application rates in soilless substrates. The wireless sensor systems provide more accurate measurements of substrate moisture than qualitative methods, and can save irrigation water, labor, energy, and fertilizer. The authors of a report published in HortTechnology said that the use of sensor-based irrigation technology can also accelerate container and greenhouse plant production time.

Erik Lichtenberg, John Majsztrik and Monica Saavoss reported on a study they designed to determine an optimal formula for ascertaining the true profitability of precision . "Sensor-based systems substitute capital for water and associated inputs such as energy, labor, and fertilizer," the authors explained. "When benefits and costs accrue at different points in time, calculating profit—or, indeed, comparing them in any way—requires putting benefits and costs on a common time footing."

The researchers designed a methodology for calculating profitability taking differences in timing into account, and then applied the methodology to data from gardenia production in a Georgia nursery. "The most convenient method (of calculating profitability) is converting all revenues and costs to constant periodic payments; e.g., annualizing them," they explained. "We began by discounting all revenues and costs to convert them to their present values. We then calculated the present value of profit, which we converted to a constant annual payment (or loss). Finally, we calculated profit (or loss) per unit area to permit scaling up or down."

The scientists found that controlling irrigation using data from moisture sensors led to substantial reductions in both production time and crop losses. "The weighted average time from planting to sale was over one-third lower, while were reduced by 50%," the authors noted.

Calculations showed that annualized profit under the system was over 1.5 times more than under the nursery's standard practice, and that most of the increase in profit was attributed to a reduction in production time.

Lichtenberg, Majsztrik and Saavoss concluded that, even if efficiency gains are not as high as those in the study, controlling irrigation using wireless sensor systems is likely to increase profitability substantially. They added that wireless can have environmental benefits as well as the economic benefits shown in the study. "The design and conduct of the experiments used in our analysis prevented us from estimating potential environmental benefits, but this technology clearly has promise as a win-win combination of economic and environmental improvements," they said.

Explore further: Sensors allow for efficient irrigation, give growers more control over plant growth

More information: HortTechnology December 2013 vol. 23 no. 6 770-774

Related Stories

Two approaches for optimizing water productivity

April 29, 2013

Agricultural Research Service researchers in Bushland, Texas, are helping farmers make the most of their water supplies in a region where they depend on the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive underground reservoir under constant ...

Well-watered citrus tested in cold-acclimating temperatures

January 31, 2014

Commercial citrus growers are often challenged by environmental conditions in winter, including low seasonal rainfall that is typical in many citrus growing regions. Growers must rely on irrigation to sustain citrus crops ...

Crops watering by phone

July 16, 2013

Thanks to a new app, smart phones could help monitor irrigation water use according to need. This could ensure that food is available on our table is the produced in a sustainable way.

Recommended for you

Scientists examine bacterium found 1,000 feet underground

December 8, 2016

Pioneering work being carried out in a cave in New Mexico by researchers at McMaster University and The University of Akron, Ohio, is changing the understanding of how antibiotic resistance may have emerged and how doctors ...

New studies take a second look at coral bleaching culprit

December 7, 2016

Scientists have called superoxide out as the main culprit behind coral bleaching: The idea is that as this toxin build up inside coral cells, the corals fight back by ejecting the tiny energy- and color-producing algae living ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.