irrigation system function (flow meters, pump status, etc.), water quality, salinity, etc.

IoT, rural connectivity & edge computing

Irrigation 4.0 hinges on every part of the system being connected to the internet so information can flow between irrigation control systems, sensors, the cloud, user interfaces and, of course, the AI. Telecommunication providers have recognized that industrial IoT is a huge market and are expanding cellular and Wi-Fi coverage, especially in rural areas. For example, the expansion of Narrow Band IoT services, abbreviated as NB-IoT, allows IoT devices in irrigation systems to communicate with minimal cost and power consumption.

Furthermore, the microprocessors inside small IoT devices are becoming so inexpensive and powerful that much of the computing for controlling irrigation can be done inside the devices in the field. This trend, known as “edge computing,” will be a boon for Irrigation 4.0.

Weather forecasting & other geospatial data

Accurate weather forecasts are essential for AI-based Irrigation 4.0. Fortunately, when it comes to precipitation, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that a three-day

forecast is now about as good as a two-day forecast was around a decade ago and as good as a one-day forecast was around 20 years ago.

Weather forecasts are also benefiting from AI and continue to improve. Likewise, irrigators have long recognized the value of satellite and aerial imagery coupled with other geographic information system data (soil maps, yield maps, etc.), especially for variable rate irrigation. Data from drones provides access to canopy status at even finer scales.

The human element

Irrigation professionals will be essential in developing and testing the new generation of technology for Irrigation 4.0. The algorithms controlling irrigation systems will receive valuable feedback from their human counterparts. Irrigation 4.0 will redefine roles in the irrigation industry, not replace jobs. It’s crucial that we start training professionals so they can become full strategic partners in the coming revolution. One does not need to become a data scientist, but we need to know enough so we can be active participants in teams that build and use Irrigation 4.0 technology.

Jay M. Ham, PhD, is a professor in the department of soil and crop sciences at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, and executive director of the Irrigation Innovation Consortium (; 7

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