Automated plant-triggered irrigation is showing great promise for many crops. Lee Rain, the largest supplier of irrigation equipment and solutions on the Eastern Seaboard, and its sister company the agricultural analysis firm Earthtec Solutions, have shared the findings of three years of research from an ongoing study of the company’s plant-triggered irrigation methodologies conducted at Oakcrest Farms in Hammonton, N.J.

The data gathered from Carmen Merlino’s blueberry farm since 2011 has provided impressive evidence of the advantages of plant-triggered irrigation in terms of both overall water savings and crop quality, according to the companies involved.

“We’ve been incredibly gratified by the data coming out of the study,” said Lee Fiocchi III, president of Lee Rain and Earthtec Solutions. “It’s a huge validation of plant-triggered irrigation which is one of the cornerstones of the ag management strategies we provide for our customers.”

In 2012 alone, the plant-triggered methodologies implemented at Merlino’s farm resulted in a savings of 21 million gallons of water when compared to USDA Census of Agriculture data, according to Lee Rain analysis.

Additionally, the study yielded some unexpected results with regard to the improved consistency of the blueberries seen throughout the season, the blueberry farmer noted. In the past, typically, Merlino’s season ran with larger berries in the beginning to smaller at the end, but when Lee Rain adjusted the irrigation based on the recommendations of Earthtec Solution’s Adviroguard analytical software, the quality and size remained consistent through the entire harvest season.

“The improved quality and size of the blueberry was consistent with each picking,” said Merlino, “which was good for production—from our packers to our brokers, from our retailers to our consumers.”

The study began in 2011 when Merlino expressed interest in automating irrigation in his field furthest from his main facility. The firm installed remote monitoring instruments in the field, collecting real-time data from the plant, soil, and environment to obtain a more detailed picture of how the plants were utilizing resources throughout the grow cycle. Adviroguard software was used to analyze the incoming data and turn it into an ag management strategy that Merlino could use to improve operations.

“The premise behind the methodology of plant-triggered irrigation is there in the name,” comments Jay Baratelli, Earthtec Solution’s global business development manager. “The application of water is guided by the data collected from the plant. The plant-triggered approach is central to true precision agriculture. It not only leads to more eco-efficient use of resources and eliminates waste, but also creates the optimal water application for crop quality and yield.”

“My blueberry plants get only the water they need,” Merlino said. “The proof is in the crop. I don’t have to be concerned about over-watering or under-watering.”

Merlino and Lee Rain are in the process of expanding the use of Earthtec Solutions’ technology to include all the fields at Oakcrest Farms. Based on its findings at Oakcrest Farms, Earthtec Solutions is taking a closer look at the factors controlling the overall health of the plant, bud set and plant growth.

“Studies like this one are enabling us to zero in on critical crop data and fine tune our methodologies,” said Baratelli. “What we’re learning on farms like Oakcrest holds so much promise for addressing the global challenges faced today and into the future.”