A Simple Idea – Agriculture, Water and the Internet of Things

I live in one of the most arid regions in the world – the Southwestern United States. Our region is in a record drought, and water scarcity is top of mind for people living here in Arizona. Because I work on sustainability issues at Intel, I know the largest user of water in our region is the agriculture sector, and that Intel has a growing business focused on the “Internet of Things,” (IOT) where we use technology to track, measure and analyze everything.

Alfalfa growing at proof of concept farm in Camp Verde, Arizona

Alfalfa growing at proof of concept farm in Camp Verde, Arizona

It would make a lot of sense to use the internet of things to measure and conserve water in agriculture – but more specifically – could we measure and apply only the amount of water necessary at the root of a crop to decrease overall water use and potentially increase yield? That question was the catalyst for an IOT proof of concept project currently underway at a farm in the Camp Verde area of Northern Arizona.

I have always liked the quote, “if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go with others.” When it comes to saving water with technology, I want to go far, so it was another simple decision that we would partner with others to try and implement this IOT, smart agriculture, proof of concept project. Our partners in this project are The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF). This is an excellent partnership because TNC is already working with farmers in the area and they have staff on the ground as part of their focus on the important Verde River; and BEF is an organization we have worked with in the past, and they have a strong interest and expertise in maintaining water flow in rivers, such as the Verde.

Weather station is being installed with staff from TNC and Intel

Weather station is being installed with staff from TNC and Intel

We just completed phase one of the project, which required the acquisition and installation of weather stations, hardware, soil moisture sensors, solar power devices, battery back-up, an Intel IOT gateway, cloud based servers, and wireless data connectivity that enables us to track detailed weather information and moisture data (24X7). Since the farms where we are deploying this technology are very remote and rural, it was a challenge to get power to the devices and connect them to the internet.  Arizona’s generous supply of sunlight made solar power an appropriate solution.

Phase two of the project will involve “wiring-up” up several more fields at the farm and starting some serious data collection and analysis. I’m looking forward to this next phase in the hope that we can answer the question, “Can technology applied to agriculture save water and increase crop yields?”

Learn more about Intel’s environmental sustainability initiatives at www.intel.com/environment.

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