If you're considering installing soil moisture monitoring devices on your property there are a few steps you should take to make sure what are planning to buy will meet your requirements. What type of soil moisture monitoring equipment you buy should be based on more than just the cost of the equipment. All too often we hear of stories where devices and systems have been abandoned, a wasted investment and a poor advertisement for soil moisture monitoring - but in many of these instances the equipment used was never going to be fit for purpose.
When you do your research take a look at the power requirements, what sort of connectivity is required, view some pictures of how the devices need to be installed etc. All of these steps and more are important to check off when doing your research. You can view all of this, as well as plenty of other important features and specifications for soil moisture monitoring devices while doing your research on AgTech Finder. To do this search for the product in the directory and use the 'Favourite' tool (the star in the top corner) to add the devices to your shortlist. Each device has the same checklist of features on their highlight page.
As you shortlist options that you think are right for you, ask yourself each of these questions, or contact the vendor to ask for their recommendation based on what you're trying to solve, the costs you're looking to save, or profits you want to make.
1. What data do I want to get from my soil moisture monitoring device?
Some soil moisture monitoring devices give simple measurements such as 'wet' or 'dry', and others provide guides to reducing plant stress and minimising irrigation water losses in the field. Some other devices give more more complex information like:
temperature of the soil
moisture at different depths
measurements of root activity and development
irrigation scheduling recommendations
how solutes move through the soil
If soil moisture readings for the root zone in the soil is all you need to measure moisture before and after an irrigation event, then a simple device is right for you. A simple device that only measures moisture still enables you to take additional readings between irrigation events and start to determine a pattern of water use.
2. How do I use the device?
Some soil moisture monitoring devices will require information to be collected manually. These are obviously more labour-intensive than devices that collect or log data automatically, so if you go for device that requires you to check it think about how often, and how you'll collect the data. Setting up a spreadsheet you can access with or without internet on your mobile phone is a better way to go than using a note book and pen. If you have Google docs you can do this by checking the box next to 'Sync Google Docs, Sheets, Slides & Drawings files to this computer so that you can edit offline'.
Manually read devices need to be read fairly regularly because if you miss taking a reading you begin to start working with incomplete data, which makes the data far less useful. If you're not sure if you'll be able to check the device regularly, then maybe consider options such as automatic logging devices or a contract service where someone else comes and collects the data from the devices for you (or build it into one of your staff's routines).
3. What level of accuracy do I need?
Whatever device you go with, be sure that the level of accuracy you can achieve matches your irrigation system and the degree of control it allows.
For example, if you're using precision irrigation techniques and can control precisely how much water you put into the soi, you want your soil moisture monitoring device to be accurate enough to provide the detail about frequent soil moisture information. You need less detail when system management is more basic or where water supply is restricted, but don't forget about planning for the future. What you buy today may affect how much money you can save, or what crops you can water efficiently in the future.
When you're considering your options, if you compare levels of accuracy you can see that the accuracy isn't always related to cost. Some low-cost devices are quite accurate, and far more so than "hand-feel" soil moisture assessment which you also can't rely on to directly and repeatedly measure soil moisture content accurately.
A note on calibration:
A device's ability to give you consistent readings every time (repeatability) can be improved by calibration. Methods and frequency of calibration depend on the type of device so ask a vendor or supplier for this information befoire making your final decision.
Where to from here?
Before you buy find a few success stories where irrigators like you have successfully used the product or products that you are considering. Some of the manufacturers of devices on AgTech Finder have these at the bottom of their listings for each solution. There's also information about how many units have been deployed.
Contact a few equipment suppliers to see what their current prices are and if they have any recommendations or places near you where their technology has been installed that you can visit. Details for vendors of soil moisture monitoring devices are listed on AgTech Finder in the highlight page for each solution.
If you want to manage or install the system yourself consider doing an irrigation management course, such as the free Irrigation and Risk Management courses offered by some of the government departments in each Australian State.
Courses cover topics such as soil characteristics, soil/water/plant relationships, irrigation system performance, irrigation layout advice, crop/forage mixes, alternative irrigation systems and water trade.
Be sure to shout out on Twitter @agtechfinder if you have any questions.
Do you have a story about soil moisture monitoring devices or other any other type of AgTech and want to tell the world? Let the AgTech Finder community know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org