CropX soil-water sensor

Jeff Burton, left, CropX territory manager, drills a hole for a CropX sensor during a press demonstration Thursday at Sunbelt Expo. Mike Mills, Southeast territory manager for Reinke, holds the 18-inch-long sensor that will be screwed into the pilot hole.

MOULTRIE, Ga. — A farmer’s success may come down to how much water his plants get when they need it. Knowing when the plant is getting enough can improve the plant, conserve water and save money.

Reinke Irrigation and its business partner, CropX, are marketing a sensor that can put that information literally at a farmer’s fingertips. On Thursday, the businesses delivered six of the CropX Technology units to the Sunbelt Expo to use on the Darrell Williams Research Farm.

In a press event, Jeff Burton, territory manager of CropX, demonstrated installing the sensor with the help of Mike Mills, Southeast territory manager for Reinke.

Burton compared the technology to the weather app on a farmer’s phone. In the old days, a farmer could watch the weather once or twice a day on TV. Now, they can literally check it whenever and wherever they need to by pulling out their smartphone.

The CropX product works the same way.

There are two versions, one 18 inches long and the other 36 inches, but they work the same way. The sensor unit is screwed into the ground in the field. At 8 inches, 18 inches and 36 inches (for the longer one), there are sensors that measure the amount of water in the ground. An antenna sends that information to the internet, where the farmer can access it through an app on his phone.

“The grower can see some historical data,” Mills said, “and it’ll show a couple days of forecast.”

The device can calculate the soil type it’s been inserted into, the field’s capacity and the plants’ wilting point, Burton said. The software will recommend to the farmer when and how much to irrigate the field.

Irrigation systems operate on either diesel fuel or electric power, both of which cost money. Knowing that the soil is wet enough means the farmer can hold off on adding water through irrigation. It saves water, it saves money, and by ensuring the plants have just the right amount of water, it helps them grow better too.

Burton said farmers can expect a return on investment of two to three times the cost of the system.

Burton and Mills acknowledged that soil-water sensors already exist, but they said they are more labor intensive to install and extract and they’re “somewhat fragile” compared to the CropX device.

Chip Blalock, executive director of the Sunbelt Expo, said the Expo will deploy the sensors in six fields with different crops, and farm manager Cody Mitchell will use its recommendations to make irrigation decisions.

The sensors will be available to the Expo for three years, which will give officials plenty of data to compare to earlier years.

“It allows us to be better environmental stewards of the precious resource the water is,” Blalock said.

For more about the technology, visit www.cropx.com.

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