by Keren Setton
JERUSALEM, Aug. 2 (Xinhua) -- Growing grapes in Israel, which suffers from water shortage, used to waste a lot of water. But thanks to the invention of a smart irrigation system, it is now possible to not only save water, but also manage the quality and quantity of grape yields.
In the decades before the invention of smart irrigation technology, Israeli farmers used to largely rely on their experience to estimate the conditions and water need of the grape crops.
But Yishai Netzer, an Israeli agronomist from Ariel University, and his research team have changed this by inventing a digital irrigation system that has been altering the way table and wine grapes are being grown.
Based on a large number of sensors that monitor the grape crops, the system lets farmers know how much water is needed for irrigation. The sensors monitor the humidity, radiation and wind speed, in addition to the water being given to the crops.
By using the new drainage lysimeters, a type of measuring device, the amount of transpiration released by the plants is measured. This gives an accurate understanding of how "thirsty" the crops are.
In his experimental greenhouses and vineyard, Netzer is currently testing five different water regiments to see their effect. The data is then collected by a computer and analyzed by the researchers, together with the farmers who have varying needs.
Different needs require differences in the amount of water irrigated. The less water used, the more stressed the plant is considered. For grapes, however, stress isn't always a bad thing.
"If you want to grow a lot of grapes, the quality will usually be compromised, and then we will irrigate more water," Netzer told Xinhua.
"In premium wine areas, we do not want a lot of yields, then we will stress the vine more. The quality of the vine will be increased, but the quantity would be medium, and it won't be the maximum," he said.
The higher the quality of the grapes, the more expensive the bottle of wine they produce will be, said Netzer, citing that the less water used, the more aromatic and deep shade of color the grapes will have.
For wine grapes especially, this is a desired outcome. Managing the irrigation according to the precise needs of the grape crops are economically beneficial for the farmers.
The climate change, which has impacted rainfall levels all over the world, also has an increasing effect on agriculture. Grapes are not exempt from this. Less water consumption due to the precision irrigation could mitigate the effects of climate change and global warming, Netzer said.
Netzer said that all this data collected from his research, can allow farmers to "cheat the plant."
"You can change the plant physiology with irrigation to the right point," he explained, "It depends what the farmer wants. If he wants a lot of yields, we will by irrigation make the vines to be less thirsty and have more yields."
Netzer and his team have also begun using machine-learning in order to apply the research results to more areas.
"There are a lot of places in the world, like the traditional wine producing countries such as France and Italy, where they still use the traditional ways to irrigate. But life is changing and they will also have to change," he said. ■