New technology saving water and environment could make difference in farm profitability

SANTA PAULA (KABC) — The amount of water you can save at home is a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things, but agricultural users are responsible for an estimated 50% of total water used in California.

So if they can reduce use, it would be noticeable.

“Water is our most expensive input, it’s our most precious input, and we’re just trying to do everything we can be as sustainable and successful as possible,” said Jason Cole, a ranch manager with Cole Limited in Santa Paula.

Cole’s family has grown avocados and lemons across 4,000 acres in Santa Paula for three generations, but over the last decade, he has turned to Acuity Agriculture and Benchmark Labs to get farm specific climate data that can save up to 10% of his water usage.

“You’re cutting some water down, but you’re also just delivering the water that’s going to be used,” he said.

ABC7 Chief Meteorologist Dallas Raines would tell you Southern California is made up of a series of micro climates, so farm-specific forecasting is a micro-climate within a micro-climate and that requires sensors in the field focusing on environmental variables beyond rain, like wind or evaporation.

“We leverage the sensors to improve the forecast and provide the most actionable data for their locations,” said Carlos Felipe Gaitan Ospina, the co-founder and CEO of Benchmark Labs. “We try to give them insights so they can better manage their operations.”

Saving water might have been the initial reason for going high-tech with agriculture, but what farmers like Cole are finding is the yield from their crops has jumped incredibly by using water more efficiently.

“We’ve seen massive yield gains, I’m talking 50%, some areas almost 100% increase,” said Cole.

Megan Dilley of Acuity Agriculture said that 10% could be huge across the industry.

“Save on water and increase their crop yield? They’re doing a great job,” she said. “If every farm is saving 10%, and we have 10% back in our ground water resource, that’s huge.”

Cole uses one sensor station for every 20 acres and said his cost is cheaper than a cell phone bill.

It is technology that’s becoming more common across the industry, and the water reduction could save more than the environment.

“That 10% could be saved to your profit margin, and that could be the difference between a profitable farmer or not … so that adds up,” said Ospina.

Many agree.

“It’s a win-win-win, I guess, all the way around,” said Cole. “We’re growing more food, we’re maximizing a resource, we all got to eat … that takes water. It’s just how we can do it as efficiently as possible.”

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