Making every drop of water count

Sentek Technologies has been revolutionizing soil moisture, fertiliser and salinity management since 1991. Its latest range of sensing solutions records soil water and salinity data at multiple depths in the soil profile through the use of Capacitance Technology and then uses the internet and satellites to transmit the data in real time from almost anywhere in the world.

CEO of the South Australian company Nick Ktoris said water management issues were becoming increasingly important.

“When we first started creating this technology 24 years ago people were saying ‘why are they doing that – we’ve got an abundance of water - you guys are crazy’ but you realise when you start having droughts and you’ve got a growing population and water becomes a finite resource that we need to be much more efficient after all,” he said.

“If you need to apply water anywhere, how much water and when to apply is really what we’re about and that can be across quite a number of applications.

“We can actually help you create a rounder, firmer apple, we can help you slow the plant growth down so you can reduce your pruning costs, we can make sure your fertiliser is not going past the root zone – the benefits are endless, not to mention you’re saving water of course.”

Sentek has four main pillars – farming, research, landscaping and environmental.

Its products have a broad range of applications – in agriculture alone they have been used in more than 100 different crop types. But the sensors can also be used to prevent landslides, monitor underground water levels in the mining industry, on golf courses and even to help seed companies develop drought resistant strains.

Sentek has 32 staff in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, and two in Arizona in the US, one of its biggest markets. Its products are used in 80 countries and on every continent except Antarctica.

“Although I do hear there’s something in the pipeline there so anything’s possible,” Ktoris said.

Recently named Business SA Exporter of the Year, Sentek’s latest product is a “drill and drop probe”, which can reduce sensor installation time from 40 minutes down to five and avoid digging large holes to bury technology underground.

“You drill the hole and you basically push the probe in and you’re off and running,” Ktoris said. “I could be sitting here in Adelaide looking at data from a farm in New South Wales or California – basically anywhere in the world in real time. We’re not only creating the hardware, we are also creating the software so that you can look at the data and use it to make informed decisions. Even if you’ve got no (internet) coverage and you want real time data we could do that through satellites.”

According to the World Resources Institute, more than a billion people live in water-scarce regions. It predicts this could increase to 3.5 billion by 2025. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is leading a National Innovation and Science Agenda in a bid to drive the nation’s economy forward. The National Farmers’ Federation has backed the push.

NFF CEO Simon Talbot said the farming sector relied on continual innovation to maintain Australia’s strong international competitiveness. “The innovation developed within Australia is also considered to be world-leading and is adopted by agribusiness across the globe further reinforcing the need for continued and strong investment in this area,” Talbot said. “This not only includes on-farm and value chain innovation but also pioneering ideas in how agriculture can meet the demands of a changing climate. Bold new ideas will be required to continue to drive this leadership and to respond to the evolving demands placed on the sector.”

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