NASA researchers have developed a system to help farmers better manage irrigation systems. The system uses data from NASA satellites, local weather observations and wireless sensor networks installed in agricultural fields to calculate water requirements of crops in individual fields and provide farmers with the information immediately.

Water requirements and forecasts can be accessed from computers or handheld devices. Farmers can then provide crops with their exact water needs as it is needed – giving the same yield with less water. It is estimated that the system should improve irrigation efficiency by at least 20 to 25%..

The project is the first to combine satellite and surface observations to estimate irrigation needs at the scale of an individual field or vineyard and to distribute the information to farmers in near real time.

NASA is working with farmers and vineyard managers in the San Joaquin Valley in California to beta-test the new software as part of an 18-month research project to optimize irrigation management.

The researchers plan to begin making the new data sets available to growers, farm managers and irrigation consultants in the agriculture industry in early 2011