Agricultural data collection has grown enormously over the last few years because of the advancing ability of technologies to retrieve data from environments ranging from soil to space. Data enable agricultural producers to grow more crops with fewer inputs, saving money and conserving limited resources. However, challenges associated with collection, transmission and interpretation of agricultural data persist.
Over the last few years, DWFI has been developing hardware and software solutions to improve the usefulness of agricultural data for producers and water managers alike. These projects also provide an opportunity for DWFI to work with UNL computer science students and to educate them about agriculture and agricultural technologies.
Benchmarking and comparing crop performance
DWFI’s agricultural database project continued development, engaging for a third time with a student team from the UNL Raikes School Design Studio program. During the last year, the student team built a mobile app to allow producers to complete their required annual reporting digitally rather than with the current system of hand-collected paper forms.
Measuring energy-water linkages with smart meters
One of the largest costs of irrigating with groundwater is the cost of energy used to pump water to the surface. It’s currently difficult for producers to understand in detail the energy costs of their irrigation and whether these are reasonable. During FY2018 and FY2019, DWFI staff installed 73 custom energy meters in Nebraska and Wyoming. Where cellular connections are good, these meters provide real-time information on energy and water use. Where cellular connections are poor – as is the case in much of rural Nebraska – it’s impossible to transmit and capture agricultural data from the field. DWFI saw this as another opportunity to engage a team of UNL Raikes School Design Studio students. We charged them with developing a solution for poor data connectivity in agriculture.
The students designed a device that connects to in-field sensors and logs and stores the data it reads. They also developed a mobile app that communicates with the device to sync the data and store it on a producer’s mobile device until the producer can reach a reliable wireless or cellular signal. Then, the producer uses the app to send the data to the cloud server, which can be accessed by DWFI. The solution was elegant and well-executed – and won the Raikes School Platinum Project award for best project. The DWFI team is now installing the new devices on energy meters across the state with positive initial results, allowing increased coverage of our project support.