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What are irrigation sensors, and how do they work in smart irrigation systems?

Even small changes in temperature can have a detrimental effect on our crops. That’s why farmers often dread weather changes, especially when they can’t just drop by their land to ensure everything is functioning properly, including their irrigation systems.

Smart irrigation systems allow farmers to live in harmony with nature, constantly monitoring changes and adapting to them.

Thanks to irrigation sensors, instead of manually reading the results and being present on the site all the time, they can be relaxing at home, and sending commands through the app on their phone, tablet, or laptop.

In this article, we’ll help you understand what the irrigation sensors are, how they function in smart irrigation systems, and why you should start using them.

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Irrigation sensors help farmers adapt to difficult weather conditions and optimize irrigation.

What are irrigation sensors?

Irrigation sensors are a part of smart irrigation systems that collect information about the plant and the surrounding soil, with the goal of ensuring the right amount of water for the plant’s needs.

The sensors complement smart irrigation systems, and their purpose is to reduce excess water used while providing the right amount of nutrients by monitoring changes in soil moisture, water flow, the amount of rain, wind, and frost.

Read more: What is precision irrigation and why it is important for farming today

How do irrigation sensors work in smart irrigation systems?

A critical feature of all irrigation sensors is that farmers can add them to their existing irrigation system. They’re easy to install, and with regular maintenance, irrigation sensors can last for years and years, help reduce water and save resources while increasing the quality of crops.

And since sensors are becoming more affordable and available to everyone, there is no reason for farmers not to enjoy the benefits of digital agriculture.

Soil moisture sensors

Before the advancement of smart irrigation, we used soil moisture meters as sensors to measure tension in the soil. A farmer would read the results after manually connecting the wires of gypsum block soil sensors with the data reader. While these sensors are widely in use today, the demand for other, more effective sensors is rapidly growing.

Capacitance sensors

Soil consists of liquids, gasses, and solids, and these materials can store electric charge. The electrical charge is known as the dielectric constant. Liquids, gasses, and soils all have different dielectric, but it is easy to differentiate between water and other components.

This type of soil moisture sensor is so effective because water has the highest electrical charge, making it obvious when soil becomes dry. Detecting lower moisture levels is communicated to the software immediately so that growers can react quickly.

With capacitance sensors, it is easy to connect the sensor and get the readings on your phone, tablet, or laptop. Without being physically present at the site, farmers can learn if the crops need water. They are inexpensive and easy to install. 

Capacitance sensors require low maintenance and provide accurate results, making them perfect for the irrigation system.

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Capacitance sensors are easy to install and require little maintenance.

Flow sensors

Flow sensors or flow meters track any sign of excess water running through the irrigation system. If there is an irrigation system malfunction and there is no need for that much water for crops, this sensor will stop it.

A flow sensor will send an alert to the person who manages water and prevent any further damage. The sensor will stop the controller from running another water cycle and communicate the issue to the person in charge. Using flow sensors means that farmers don’t have to be physically present on-site to detect possible damage.

The primary purpose of smart irrigation systems is to save resources while getting the best results. Excessive leakage implies that the crops will not get the proper moisture. The more water runs unintentionally, the higher the bill.

Flow sensors have quickly become the most commonly used sensors in smart irrigation systems. Installing flow sensors is inexpensive and straightforward. Low maintenance makes them appealing to customers.

Rain sensors

One of the best features of precision irrigation is applying the right amount of water into the soil. Rain sensors are some of the first irrigation sensors and are here to stay. After detecting rain, the sensors will stop the next watering cycle. Depending on the amount of rain that falls, farmers can significantly reduce water usage.

There are several types of rain sensors. Sensors that rely on a cup to get filled with a certain amount of water are unreliable. When a cup fills with water, the sensor will stop further moisturizing the soil. But in case debris or bugs get into the cup, the sensor can receive false-positive information.

The newest rain sensors operate using disks that expand when they get wet. They trigger the switch and pause the irrigation cycle until the disks get dry again as they expand. These sensors’ durability, simplicity, and efficacy will help farmers save resources while getting the best results.

What makes these sensors even more appealing to farmers is that it is enough to check their reliability once a year.

Read more: How we made a 17% savings in water consumption in apple orchard to one of our biggest clients

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Rain sensors usually require annual maintenance.

Freeze sensors

Although sometimes sprinklers are used to protect plants from frost, this method isn’t suitable for all conditions. That’s why adding freeze sensors is a good idea to protect the irrigation system from freezing and breaking.

Freeze sensors often come as a part of rain or soil moisture sensors. Their purpose is to stop the irrigation when the temperature falls below 32 F. Since irrigation systems can malfunction in low temperatures, preventing the irrigation cycle can prolong the life of the irrigation system and help avoid any damage to it.

Wind sensors

It is possible to achieve the highest levels of farm irrigation efficacy with sensors that reduce the effect of wind on irrigation. Water can be scattered throughout the landscape during strong winds but fail to moisturize the crops in the right way. Water is not distributed equally, so all crops do not receive a proper amount of moisture. Wind sensors stop the irrigation cycle when the wind reaches a certain threshold.

Using wind sensors, farmers will reduce the amount of water used as water will flow only in the right conditions when there is no wind. Farmers can add wind sensors to their existing irrigation system and enjoy the benefits.

Adapt to any climate with irrigation sensors

Farmers may not always be able to react fast when there’s a sudden weather change, and sometimes their fast reaction will be exactly what the orchard will need. What if the temperatures suddenly drop? Thanks to freeze sensors, the irrigation will stop and prevent the system from breaking down.

And this is just one example of how irrigation sensors can be of great help–they’re an investment rather than an expense, and prolong the life of the whole irrigation system. Suddenly, rain and wind do not seem terrifying as farmers can quickly adapt to new conditions.

Want to learn more about how you can improve your existing irrigation system with irrigation sensors and take your digital farming to the next level? Reach out and schedule a call–we’ll take it from there.

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