Cotton irrigation app helps farmers manage water usage

App suggests when growers should irrigate

The app, which was released on April 16, is free and can be downloaded at www.smartirrigationapps.org. (Special Photo)

The app, which was released on April 16, is free and can be downloaded at www.smartirrigationapps.org. (Special Photo)

TIFTON — A new smartphone app developed by University of Georgia and University of Florida researchers will help cotton farmers in their states save one of nature’s most precious resources —water.

George Vellidis, a scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and an expert in precision agriculture and water resources management, developed the app to help cotton growers irrigate their crops based on local conditions.

The app, which was released on April 16, is free and can be downloaded at www.smartirrigationapps.org.

The app is programmed to use data from UGA’s Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network (GAEMN) and the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) to assess weather conditions that factor into irrigation needs. So, currently, it obviously works best in Georgia and Florida, Vellidis said.

Growers register a field on which they want to use the app by using their smartphone’s built-in GPS. The app then automatically locates the closest weather station.

“It’s best to begin using the app after the cotton has been planted. The app keeps a balance of how much water is in the soil by estimating how much water the crop uses daily and by adding rain and irrigation to that balance,” he said.

The app doesn’t tell farmers how much water to apply. It only recommends when the grower should irrigate. Cotton farmers use the most water when their crop is flowering and when the bolls are filling.

The new UGA app also notifies farmers when to take action so they do not have to check the app every day. In its first year, the app can now be used with center pivot irrigation systems. Later, the app will be updated to allow users to select between center pivots and drip systems.

“Early testing showed that this new app outperformed most other irrigation scheduling tools,” Vellidis said. “It was tested in many fields during 2013 and it tested well under a variety of conditions.”

The cotton app is one of four apps developed by a team of UGA and University of Florida researchers. UF researchers have also released apps for citrus, strawberry and urban lawn irrigation. The cotton app is different from the other three in that it relies on measured precipitation and irrigation.

For more information on the apps or to download them for free, see the website www.smartirrigationapps.org. The website also includes app tutorials.

“The whole point is to have more efficient irrigation and water conservation,” Vellidis said. “This tool will allow (cotton) growers to better determine their irrigation needs and estimate some potential savings.”

A 2010 report indicated that by 2050, much of Florida is projected to be at high to extreme risk of water shortage while Georgia was predicted to have moderate to extreme water shortages, he said. The escalating cost of fuel and other potential restrictions on irrigation water make the new app useful for increased sustainability, too.

“We expect competition for water to increase in the Southeast,” Vellidis said. “Tools like the smartphone apps will allow growers to greatly increase their water use efficiency — how much crop they grow with every gallon of water they use.”