Irrigation sensors have quickly become the right hand of every successful irrigation system.
They allow you to delay or pause an irrigation cycle when there is no need for irrigation or when irrigation could cause damage and give you better control over your farm or orchard.
Sensors offer many advantages, but there are also some disadvantages you should know before installing sensors on your irrigation system. We’ll present them in this article so you can weigh your options and decide what’s the best for your land.
Benefits of using irrigation sensors (soil moisture sensors, rain sensors…)
There are many benefits to using sensors in your drip irrigation system. For example, soil moisture sensors help you build a system that provides a plant with just enough water – no more, no less.
Apart from that, they provide you with control over your system and help you get enough data so you could make better decisions in the future about your orchard or farm.
Here’s a short list of benefits of sensors for irrigation systems.
1. Properly installed sensors optimize your water consumption
Rain sensors comprise discs that stop or delay the irrigation cycle when they get wet.
The primary benefit is water-saving, as the rain will substitute the next irrigation cycle. These sensors save water as a resource, and farmers will not have to pay as much at the end of the month.
The sensors are highly beneficial in areas where rain precipitation is not scarce. Rain sensors also prolong the life of the irrigation systems, as it allows for less frequent usage.
2. Soil sensors keep your budget for water and fertilizers in check
As you reduce water usage, you also lower your maintenance costs. Not just because you’re using less water, but also because the system is running less frequently, so your utility bill lowers as well.
You may notice a more optimal fertilizer usage, too. Excessive water may wash away a significant amount of the fertilizer so the land may not get enough, meaning you need to use more. By avoiding over-watering, you also ensure the optimal amount of fertilizer for your plants.
3. Installing sensors and partially maintaining drip irrigation systems is easier than doing overhauls
Another benefit of irrigation sensors is that they are easy to install, operate, and maintain. Once farmers install them, annual maintenance is usually all it takes to be in good condition.
By letting the system rest when watering isn’t necessary, sensors reduce the wear and tear of the pipes and other parts of the irrigation system. That way, its lifespan is prolonged and your investment pays off even more.
4. Meters and sensors can prevent damage to your orchard
Flow meters in smart irrigation alert the owner of an unusually high or low water flow. The farmer can check up on the pipes and valves for leakages and save money.
Of course, issues with too much or too little water do not affect only finances. Under or overwatering the plants can be fatal, and this is what a flow meter can successfully prevent.
Freeze sensors will detect low temperatures and stop the irrigation system from operating. Such a simple approach prevents any possible damage frozen water could cause to the pipes.
Wind sensors save water in windy weather, as precision irrigation is all about providing the plant with the water it needs. During wind, water cannot reach the plant directly as the wind directs in a different direction, so the irrigation system should not work then.
Thanks to wind sensors, it is possible to irrigate crops in periods of the day that are without wind.
5. Precision sensors can be operated remotely. This means you have full control 24/7/365, wherever you are.
Capacitance soil moisture sensors are highly accurate in readings. One of the best advantages of these sensors is that they are compatible with controllers so that you can manage them remotely.
TDR sensors are also exact, with reliable readings, and farmers don’t have to calibrate soil. Just like in the case of capacitance sensors, it’s possible to manage these sensors remotely. Accurate readings allow you a peace of mind because you can react to sudden changes e.g. over the phone or laptop even when you’re not around.
The disadvantages of irrigation sensors
1. They need appropriate placement or become unreliable
To detect rain, the discs of the rain sensor have to become wet. This implies that the rain has to fall directly on the rain sensor.
However, you can solve this issue easily by placing a rain sensor on the right spot, where you can ensure that it will immediately detect rain.
As with the rain sensors, the success of the flow meter highly depends on its proper placement. Obstructions in the pipe, such as valves and pumps, can prevent accurate readings. It’s necessary to have at least five straight diameters upstream and one straight diameter downstream from the meter to prevent this.
When the water is running without obstructions in the meter’s vicinity, the readings will be more precise.
2. They take a while to take action
Another disadvantage is that the rain sensor might take several minutes to stop the irrigation system. While this increases the accuracy of the decision, it can also increase water use.
Soil moisture sensors have a slow response time and may take up to 24 hours to collect the data. Unless farmers connect them to a controller for remote management, it requires a lot of physical labor.
3. They have a small sensing area
A disadvantage of capacitance and TDR sensors, for example, is that they do not have a large sensing area. To resolve this, farmers would have to get more sensors. This may increase the initial investment and some farmers may get discouraged from installing them.
The advantages outnumber the disadvantages
Using AI and technology in agriculture has brought so much good to farmers that the advantages of upgrading the irrigation system with sensors outnumber the shortcomings. If placed correctly and controlled remotely, irrigation sensors can improve your irrigation immensely and the challenges become easy to overcome.