Tech-Savvy Organic Farmer Uses Sensor That Can Hear Raindrops

Jeff Reed has served as chief technology officer of Arrow Electronics for years, but now Reed is taking his tech skills and putting them to use elsewhere — growing organic alfalfa on his property along the Yellowstone River.

After Reed found out about the closure of the Yellowstone River, which was caused by a parasite that killed thousands of fish, he put his technology skills to work in order to irrigate his fields. His goal was to complete his irrigating efficiently while leaving more water in the river.

Reed stated, “I’m working on the water primarily in response to what’s happening with our fish species… It’s not just about getting efficient with water, but helping our tourism-based economy so we don’t have (more) fish kills.”

By installing high-tech sensors in order to monitor things like rainfall and the moisture content of the soil, Reed was able to draw river water only as necessary, instead of using excessive water all season long. This allows Reed to predict how much water is being lost from the plant and soil and compare that to how much is coming in at any given time.

Working with Ford Smith, who operates an organic lawn care company out of Bozeman, Reed is still studying the soil on his property. His hope with this new technology is that he’ll be able to eventually allow up to a 50% greater efficiency in water usage along with increasing the amount of nutrients in the soil.

The CTO turned organic alfalfa farmer is just the latest example of the ways modern technology is changing one of the world’s oldest — and most important — professions.

The sensor Reed uses is produced by a tech company called Arable. The sensor measures rainfall by sound and can compute the amount of rainfall by the sound and size of the rain drops. Using this and other information, Reed has written a code for the irrigation system that will automatically turn on the pump and pivot when needed.

Smart farming systems like this could have major implications for both the agriculture and livestock industry in the United States and around the world. With the total value of U.S. cattle and calf production equaling $60 billion in 2015, farming is one of the largest industries in America. With demand for food increasing, more and more farmers are looking for more sustainable practices.

Reed hopes that these sensors will become more available and less expensive so more farmers will use the technology. He also predicts that as more data is collected, it will become easier to more accurately manage high tech farming operations.

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