Soil moisture sensor answers call to regulate water use

UConn researchers develop soil moisture sensor
University of Connecticut researchers have developed a cost-effective, easy-to-install soil moisture sensor that provides a viable alternative to existing soil sensors. (University of Connecticut)

In an effort to help agricultural users regulate water consumption, a team of University of Connecticut researchers have developed a soil moisture sensor that is reportedly more cost-effective than current technology and can easily be installed.

According to the researchers, the sensors are expected to reduce water consumption by 35% and cost far less than existing sensors. Current sensors that are used in a similar manner cost $100 to $1,000 each, while the one developed at UConn costs $2. The sensors are less expensive and provide higher performance than collecting data from remote sensors such as radars and radiometers on board satellites.

“Advances in hydrological science are hampered by the lack of on-site soil moisture data,” said Guiling Wang, study author and professor of civil and environmental engineering at UConn. “It’s really hard to monitor and measure things underground. The challenge is that the existing sensors are very expensive, and the installation process is very labor intensive.”

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The researchers designed and tested the sensors on the university’s farm. In the UConn prototype, wires are connected from the sensors to an instrument that logs data. Researchers conducted field tests of the sensors—side-by-side tests with commercial sensors under various environmental conditions throughout a 10-month period.

The sensors are considered key to agricultural user efforts to balance crop production with water usage. In some U.S. states—Florida and California, for example—irrigation water usage has become tightly restricted.

The UConn researchers are also working on a nitrogen sensor that is the same model of the water sensors. These would help provide farmers with information on when fields need fertilizing. Currently, nitrogen sensors are not available using this type of technology.

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