A new phone app University of Florida researchers developed could save farmers water, fertilizer and subsequently money, a new study shows.
The app, SmartIrrigation Avocado, was created to help avocado farmers save water by using better irrigation practices.
The new study published in September showed the possibility of reducing the amount of water used for avocado trees by large amounts while maintaining crop yields.
It is estimated that avocados have a nearly $100 million industry in Florida, according to the study.
“The app uses weather data, user input and internal calculations to estimate an irrigation schedule that growers can use,” said Kati Migliaccio, a UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) professor and lead author on the study. “Weather is updated daily in the app and used to estimate evapotranspiration.”
Jonathan Crane, a UF Tropical Fruit Crop Specialist and a co-author of the study, explained evapotranspiration and how measuring the effects of it with avocado trees was the key to saving farmers water while maintaining crop yields.
“This means if I have a glass of water and it loses one inch in a day, the plant in that glass may only lose a quarter inch of water because plants can control water loss,” Crane said. “Trees don’t lose water as quickly as open water does; they only lose it at one-fourth the rate. We only need to re-apply what the tree lost.”
The app also takes into consideration the stage of the avocado tree such as flowering or fruiting.
By adopting these new methods using this scientific approach, farmers can expect to see large water savings.
“Some of the more conventional practices that people do is they’re either turning their high volume engine pumps on for four hours at a time once or twice a week or they have a micro sprinkler on a timer that comes on every third day for five hours,” Crane said. “By actually more closely monitoring water use … you would use about one-third to one-half less water than you normally would.”
The study was conducted in Homestead, where there’s nearly 7,000 acres of avocado trees. The vast majority of the state’s avocado trees are grown there due to its tropical climate, Crane said.
The app has had a slow start and only around 37 farmers in the south Florida region are currently using it. Despite this, Dean Mbabazi, a biology and agricultural engineering graduate student and a co-author of the report, believed that farmers will turn to it for water, money and even nutrient savings when they discover how well it works.
“They liked the app and how it saves them time and money,” said Dean Mbabazi, “Moving to new technologies will have much more savings and increase profit margin … In some cases, there were 60 to 70 percent water savings.”
“We’ll have fewer losses in terms of nutrients and water in the soil because now they’re not applying excess water,” Mbabazi said. “We didn’t have a change in yields. The farmers were able to obtain the same yields and in some varieties we actually might have had improvements.”
Migliaccio, Crane and Mbabazi hope to expand this technology for more fruits and vegetables in the near future.
“We had reliable information in terms of irrigation for avocados. We want to do many other fruit and vegetable crops,” Crane said. “The idea is to expand this app into as many crops as we can get reliable information on.”