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New Mexico State University

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NMSU civil engineering professor's research, new app aid local farmers

Around 700 million people in 43 countries suffer from water scarcity today, according to the United Nations. Because of those alarming statistics, it's now more important than ever that New Mexicans work to preserve the precious, irreplaceable resource.


NMSU civil engineering Professor Zohrab Samani and local farmer John Storm look at iFarm data on a computer screen.
NMSU civil engineering Professor Zohrab Samani and local farmer John Storm view data on iFarm, an online application developed by Samani to enable more efficient water usage on farms. (NMSU photo by Isabel A. Rodriguez)

Zohrab Samani, civil engineering professor at New Mexico State University, is doing his part by developing a digital application that will help farmers determine when and how frequently they should irrigate their crops.

iFarm, short for Intelligence Farm, is an online app that will be available for use on cellphones and computers. The program is intended to help set up a more efficient irrigation schedule by taking into consideration multiple factors.

"The request came from the farmers," said Samani, who began developing the program in summer 2011. "Due to the recent adjudication regulations, each farmer has a fixed amount of water right, and cannot exceed that. Farmers are trying to find the best time to irrigate, so that they don't end up wasting the limited water right they have."

For now, iFarm is specialized for pecan farms. In the future, Samani said, he would like to expand it to other crops, including alfalfa, cotton and corn.

"The goal is to conserve water and increase yield and profit for farmers," he said. "The program has the potential to serve thousands of farms, based on their unique soil, crop and watering practices."

Vien Tran, the civil engineering student who designed the software code, said the app currently operates at the basic version, calculating the schedule based on water balance.

"The most challenging part is how we can extend our calculation to incorporate real-time climate data into the model," Tran said. "The more up-to-date climate information we could obtain, the more accurate results the model could predict. Impact would be significant for farmers once they use it more frequently. They can share the irrigation information and learn from each other."

"There is room for improvement," Samani said. "The super deluxe version will use satellite imagery to monitor the crop progress and adjust the operation accordingly."

Farmers from all over the world may sign up for the service. To obtain results, users simply provide a few details about their crops, such as farm location and method of irrigation.

"We do the rest," Samani said, adding that the cost to use the program will be minimal. "The app can provide service based on subscription, like phone service or cable, except this would be for water management. The fee is to support the software and data management operation."

The device has already been tested on a few local farms, including John Storm's pecan crops, located near the New Mexico/Texas state line.

"I was impressed with the program," he said. "Based on the coordinates, soil sample and water retention, it helped me come up with an irrigation schedule. It's a useful tool. It's easier to make calculations with it, and that's a big benefit."

Storm said he spends approximately $14,000 a year on irrigation ($2,000 each time), so he needs to ensure the task is being done as efficiently as possible.

"Too much water is as bad as not enough," he said, adding that he's most impressed by iFarm's software, which takes into account wind, humidity and precipitation.

The coordinates are used to identify the location of the crops. Then, infrared imaging is used to determine whether too much, not enough or the correct amount of water is being applied.

"For a farmer, that's a great tool," Storm said. "It could possibly save me thousands of dollars. I can't imagine a more efficient way to monitor crops."

"The potential for the program is endless," said Samani. "We can tell farmers exactly when to irrigate, how much to irrigate. We can even tell them when to plant, when they can expect to harvest, how much fertilizer to put in. All this can be done on a farm-to-farm basis. The best thing about this software is its universal application. Any farmer from anywhere in the state, nation or world can use it."