Waterwise: a world-first, cloud-connected, plant-based sensor monitoring platform with advanced data analytics for reducing the water footprint of high value crops

What problem does WaterWise solve?

Irrigation management relies on growers taking many things into account. Timing, for example, is critical to maximise crop yield and quality. Successful managers do this well, but often need to rely on experience rather than definitive data to make their decisions. Differences in soil type, regional climate, water availability, system capacity, attitude to risk and the amount of data collected means that irrigation management has to be tailored and responsive. Decisions are often challenged when situations are considerably different from normal, such as when extreme weather events occur.

But recent improvements in wireless sensor technology and advanced data analytics enable use of plant- and soil-based sensing to continually monitor crops and soils, allowing application and a degree of precision not previously attainable on a commercial scale.

A woman in a field holding a sensor

Dr Rose Roche with one of the sensors in tomatoes

CSIRO had already led ground-breaking research in plant-based sensing technologies (such as ‘by letting the plants do the talking’) to improve yield and water use efficiency in Australian cotton systems. The system uses proximal (single location in the field) continuous canopy temperature measurement and offers growers a simple means of identifying crop stress.

In conjunction with existing soil moisture measurements, we thought our current system could offer significantly refined irrigation scheduling decisions.

We aimed to develop the minimum tool box (data and sensors) needed for research purposes that would quickly deliver benefits to industry.

How does WaterWise work?

We developed a platform that provides irrigation decision-making based on both monitored and forecast crop water stress status. It incorporates breakthrough science – advanced data analytics, spatial sensing systems, weather forecasts and novel crop biochemistry – to predict the future.

It uses in-field sensors that measure the canopy temperature of crops every 15 minutes. It then sends the data to CSIRO’s sensor data infrastructure, Senaps, adds in the weather forecast and uses machine learning to apply CSIRO’s unique algorithm to predict crop water requirements for the next seven days.

WaterWise provides irrigators with digital strategies to confidently irrigate at the right time to optimise yield, quality and water use for high-value crops.

The next steps for WaterWise are to take it from in-field based canopy sensors to drones or satellites.

How can I get WaterWise?

Goanna Ag are our first commercial partner bringing the WaterWise technology to Australian irrigators. Goanna Ag, which produce agricultural sensing systems for water-use efficiency, are delivering WaterWise’s smart analytics as a data stream to their on-farm customers, incorporated into their existing GoField system.

We invite other interested companies to get in touch with us to discuss licensing WaterWise as well. You can submit our form or contact Rose Roche, WaterWise project leader.

What’s new for WaterWise in 2023?

We commissioned an independent economic evaluation of WaterWise’s potential impact in the irrigated agricultural sector. It found the WaterWise tech could return a whopping $1 billion to Australian agriculture by 2030. The evaluation found for every dollar invested in the science to develop the high-tech system, it will return a massive $8 to $125, or $43 on average, to the industry.

The evaluation is based on four of Australia’s most water-intensive agricultural crops – tomatoes, cotton, sugarcane and almonds. The system is used over a much wider range of crop types, so actual results will be higher than modelled. Our early field trials of the WaterWise system found it saved growers 35 per cent of the water used for tomatoes in one season. It also led to yield improvements in cotton.

The evaluation also uncovered an exciting and unexpected impact – reduced carbon dioxide emissions from irrigation. This is because pumping less water around on-farm means lower use of irrigation pumps, which reduces energy use and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The system could save the equivalent in CO2 emissions as taking 336,000 cars off the road for a year or turning off 186,000 households’ energy for a year.

Read more in our article, Saving one million swimming pools of water while growing tomatoes.

An infographic about WaterWise

WaterWise could bring a whopping $1 billion to Australian agriculture by 2030.


Where can I get more information on WaterWise?


‘Quantifying crop water use from field to regional scales using multi-resolution thermal sensing’ by Dave Deery (9:24 minutes)

Dr Rose Brodrick with an Arducrop water sensor
  • Rose leads Digiscape's WaterWise project. She develops new technologies and integrated digital systems for the agricultural industry to improve farm productivity.
  • Dave has played a leading role in the development of highly novel field phenomics approaches using proximal remote sensing, data science.