Drought Tech: Innovative Solutions Help Farmers Manage Water

Across North America, technology and other innovative solutions help farmers make the most of the water they have.

By Jodi Helmer | Photos By Jae C. Hong

0216drought1Many areas in the Western U.S. and Canada—and beyond—have recently experienced historic droughts, and it’s no surprise that farmers have been hit hardest by the water shortages. “In research and in practice, we have shown that technology [is] very effective for helping farmers deal with drought,” notes Ximing Cai, endowed professor and water resources expert at the University of Illinois. To ease the impact of dry spells, several startups have created high-tech solutions to help farmers manage and conserve water. Here are just a few.

HydroBio uses satellite and weather data to issue irrigation prescriptions to farmers based on the specific needs of their fields. A startup called SWIIM tracks water usage data and allows farmers to “rent” the unused portion of their water allocation to other farmers, a service similar to carbon exchanges.

California Safe Soil takes a different approach. The fresh food recycler collects blemished fruits and vegetables from grocers across the state and converts them into liquid compost. The product, called Harvest2Harvest, is applied to crops as a liquid fertilizer that has helped decrease water consumption on farms up to 25%.

While some farmers might be skeptical of new technologies, Cai compares new advances to protect against drought to GPS tractors and pivot irrigation systems—now considered necessities in many agricultural operations. “If farmers use these technologies, they will be helpful for reducing crop damage,” he says.