from the April 2009 issue

Thirsty plants send 'text' message

Can a new device developed in Israel save growers the heartbreak of seeing their plants wither away for lack of water. Researchers at the Volcanic Center at the Agriculture Ministry have developed a new sensor that gauges moisture levels in plants and trees, and issues real-time alerts to farmers' mobile phones or computers when watering is required.

The device, shaped like a hammer, is embedded in the tree trunk or plant root, where it monitors electrical currents. When such activity is low, the sensor issues an alert.

The researchers who developed the device said that it will be extremely useful to farmers growing fruits and vegetables, bringing down irrigation expenses by up to 50 percent.

The scholars involved in the project are Dr. Eran Raveh and Dr. Arieh Nadler, experts in plant biology and ground science respectively. They presented the new sensor in an exhibition put on by the Agriculture Ministry in the Arava.

Raveh and Nadler said the sensor, which took seven years to develop, is intended to give farmers a comfortable, accessible and cheap way of lowering irrigation needs, thereby reducing costs as well as damage inflicted to plants by over-watering. They said that the technology employed in the device may be soon used in private homes as well.

"With this sensor, the level of irrigation, and primarily its timing, will be controlled by farmers themselves," Nadler said.

The researchers also said that until now, farmers lacked simple, cheap and reliable tools to monitor water levels. Dr. Raveh said that in order to get a reliable picture of a plant's moisture level, a farmer must check no fewer than 26 points on the ground around the plant, but that a small number of the newly-developed sensors can now do that work instead.

"We are now trying to develop such a device for commercial purposes. We will reduce its size further, and distribute it to farmers at prices affordable to everyone," he said.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report April 2009

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