Growers can make informed decisions about when to irrigate, as well as monitor water use by using the i-crop system, developed by Cambridge University for PepsiCo.
Analysis by the firm suggests growers could increase yields by 14% if they used water more efficiently. With the goal to decrease water use, particularly in areas such as the south of England, by 50% in five years, increasing efficiency is obviously the solution PepsiCo is hoping i-crop will provide.
Trialled on 24 fields around the country in 2010, it consists of a weather station and three soil probes, measuring irrigation, rainfall and soil moisture deficit data. In addition, PepsiCo staff visited each trial site every week to 10 days to collect further data about crop growth.
Using the system will enable growers to schedule irrigation more efficiently in the future, says Mark Pettigrew, PepsiCo’s agricultural development manager.
But for the first year, the tool was just used to collect data, with growers managing fields as they would normally.
The information has started to show where water use could be improved, Mr Pettigrew says. “For example, the data collected suggests one grower started his irrigation too late and the crop was too dry from mid-June to the end of the month. That will have cost yield.
“Then 116mm of irrigation was applied, and with the rain there was 1mm drainage from the field, which is just as bad.”
One year’s data suggests that Saturna is more water intensive than Hermes, while northern and western growers produced more potatoes per mm of water applied, as they benefited from greater rainfall.” More research is needed to confirm these initial findings, says Mr Pettigrew.
The results have been analysed by Cambridge University Farm and ADAS experts and, as with the carbon reduction programme, a list of proposed potential best practices have been discussed with grower groups.
High-priority best practices include making sure irrigation operators have up-to-date training, applying water only as scheduled and recording water use. Growers will be given a water management plan to follow, again with benchmark comparisons with other growers, and suggestions for action to minimise water use.
• For more on PepsiCo’s carbon reduction programme, including two videos, click here.