FFAR Awards Grant to Reduce Water Waste in Crop Irrigation

Sustainable irrigation of farmland depends on balancing irrigation levels with crop water demand. However, measuring plant water status is often too costly for growers; farmers must either invest in many expensive sensors or a large amount of labor to make measurements by hand. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $650,000 grant to the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) to develop a low-cost, compact and noninvasive leaf sensor to measure plant water status. UC Davis provided matching funds for a total $1,300,000 research investment.

Sensors currently available to growers to measure plant water status are prohibitive for a variety of reasons. The sensors are either bulky and have high power consumption, are not very accurate, produce data that is difficult to relate directly and consistently to leaf water status or are too sensitive to environmental fluctuations such as temperature, humidity and wind. A cheap sensor that does not interfere with plant growth has the potential to greatly improve irrigation scheduling for growers.

Many areas in the U.S. face increasing water shortages, making it necessary for growers to pinpoint just the right amount of water to keep their crops healthy. This research aids these efforts by providing growers with accurate data to ensure thriving crops while conserving precious resources. Sally Rockey, Ph.D.
Executive Director Emeritus

UC Davis researchers, led by Dr. Omeed Momeni, are developing a small sensor sensitive enough to measure as little as a one percent change in leaf thickness and volumetric water content at the same time. These two measurements provide growers with clear, consistent data to calculate the plant’s water status. The sensor consists of a chip that can be mounted on one side of a leaf so as not to affect photosynthesis, and that is turned on briefly every few hours, minimizing power consumption. The sensor uses signals with short wavelengths, which allows for a small chip size.

In addition to saving growers money and reducing water waste, the sensor reliably and quickly measures the water content of a leaf over a long period of time, providing valuable data to food and agriculture researchers.

I have always been passionate about technologies that have meaningful impacts on environment and people’s well-being. I think this project, if successful, can achieve that by accurately and inexpensively detecting the water content of leaf and regulate efficient irrigation accordingly for farms where most of the water is being consumed. The sensor is small, accurate, low-cost, can last for months on a tree leaf without interfering with its function, and routinely provides valuable information about the water status of the plant. Dr. Omeed Momeni
Principal Investigator of this project


Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.

Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

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