How does water help agriculture

Drop by drop: Saving water in agriculture

Most of the earth is covered with water. However, just three percent of it is freshwater - most of it frozen in ice and glaciers. Liquid fresh water is therefore a precious commodity that is becoming increasingly scarce worldwide.

The amount of fresh water that is consumed each year is made up of three parts: the smallest part is made up of private households, the middle part is made up of industry. However, the largest consumer with almost 70 percent is agriculture. No wonder, after all, almost half of the food that ends up on our plates has to be artificially irrigated during cultivation.

High consumption, high savings potential

Wherever a lot is used, a lot can of course also be saved. Especially when you consider that most of the water that agriculture uses simply seeps into the ground or evaporates. This water is not only lost, it also does harm. Constant overwatering salty the soil and makes it sterile.

ZIM Plant Technology GmbH has now developed a particularly innovative monitoring system that helps plants get exactly as much water as they need. This is made possible by special probes that are attached directly to the leaves of the plants - an average of six of these sensors are required on a 20 hectare field. The principle is similar to that of measuring blood pressure: A plant leaf is clamped between two magnets. The "blood pressure" of the plant - in technical language: the turgor pressure - now works against the magnetic pressure. The ZIM probe measures the difference between the magnetic pressure and the turgor pressure.

How big this difference is - in other words: how much or little the plant has drunk - is transmitted by the probe to a server in real time via mobile radio. A farmer can access this data via the Internet. So he can easily see from his desk where watering needs to be done and where not.

Water on - with a system

This first stage is already working with great success: around 1,500 probes are in use worldwide - and demand remains very high. It has already been possible to achieve water savings of up to 40 percent or an increase in harvest of up to 31 percent through the use of the ZIM probe technology. The system will be even more effective in the second expansion stage, which is currently being developed: in the future, the probes will not only provide information about the plants' water requirements. They also ensure that there is watering when necessary. To do this, the probes are connected to the irrigation system - and the plants automatically receive the right amount of water. The farmer pays a monthly fee for this service, which saves time and effort. And precious fresh water.

Promote global benefits

The probe system, which measures the plants' water requirements directly on the leaves, is currently unrivaled. Similar projects have been researched since the 1970s. But only now has it been possible to operate it inexpensively and suitable for everyday use. The Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology is contributing to this success by promoting ZIM Plant Technology GmbH through the High-Tech Gründerfonds. In this way, it helps the German technology company to sell its innovations worldwide, to build a new production facility and to invest in research and development for other product highlights.

Fact overview:
Product: Remote monitoring of the water balance of plants via the Internet
Companies: ZIM Plant Technology GmbH
Market launch: 2011
Advancement: ZIM, EXIST start-up grant, high-tech start-up fund, seed financing
Funding amount: 400,000 euros
Funding period: 2010 until today