By Charles Barrett, Regional Extension Agent – Water Resources
University of Florida IFAS
North Florida REC – Suwannee Valley
Live Oak, FL
With the unpredictability of weather, farmers are turning to technology for peace of mind. Dr. Charles Barrett, Water Resources Regional Specialized Agent at UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center – Suwannee Valley, works directly with farmers to teach them how to use soil moisture sensors.
“I started my position in May 2016. In the last three years, I have seen a lot of knowledge gain with soil moisture sensors,” says Barrett. “Of course, I have heard a story of a producer discovering that one of his employees forgot to turn off a valve, never turned one on, and all about the little mishaps that the sensors can tell you. But, I have also seen a lot of insights gained by producers that were not available before soil moisture sensors.”
Before soil moisture sensors, producers would decide if their fields needed water by feeling the soil in their fields or guessing based on the weather predictions. “The overwhelming majority of growers I have spoken with have all said to me in their own words that soil moisture sensors give them peace of mind,” Barrett said.
Soil moisture sensors are a Best Management Practice (BMP) that puts the data directly into an app a farmer can use on their phone. That data can help them with their water use and solve problems that are happening in their field.
“Last year at the Watermelon Institute in Gainesville, FL, Bob Hochmuth and I were graced with the good fortune of presenting with one of our local watermelon growers,” Barrett said. “Her crop was going into water stress mid-day. Bob Hochmuth and I worked with her to add a third irrigation event and cut her total daily run time by one hour.”
Adding a third irrigation event and adjusting run times resulted in no water stress the very next day. Her soil moisture sensors provided the data needed to see how to solve the problem and support the adjustment.
“While this was not a minor adjustment, and created more work, she said it was worth it when she saw the results. I commend her for going out on a limb to trust Bob and me,” said Barrett.