Colorado agri-biotech company AgriHouse Inc. recently executed an exclusive license with the University of Colorado for intelligent leaf sensor technology enabling more precise control of water use in farming and greenhouses.
AgriHouse, headquartered in Berthoud, is developing leaf sensors to measure and monitor plant moisture demands and other plant physiological sensing applications. The company's first product, the SG-1000 Leaf Sensor and Precision Irrigation Control Software, became commercially available late last year. The SG-1000 Leaf Sensor is being used by researchers working in plant growth, as well as in commercial greenhouses; besides saving water and preventing loss of plants, the leaf sensor allows for direct measurement of plant hydration, replacing current monitoring technologies that direct watering indirectly from indicators such as soil moisture and air temperature.
In a 2008 test at a U.S. Department of Agriculture research farm near Greeley, the company's leaf sensor demonstrated an approximate 25 percent water savings over conventional watering schedules. Colorado farmers currently spend more than $100 million annually for water and energy to irrigate their crops.
Data monitoring captured by the leaf sensor and software also measures plant responses to evaporation, temperature and humidity fluctuations, along with wind gusts, soil moisture levels and natural rainfall. The sensors work in real time, and are functional during the entire growing season for any type of crop.
"Because of its low-profile and non-intrusive features, the sensor can benefit researchers needing to better understand water flow mechanics, nutrient uptake and yield performance," said Richard Stoner, founder and president of AgriHouse. "The SG-1000 Leaf Sensor is another tool in the farmer's toolbox for controlling and lowering the cost of on-the-farm inputs. It is simply smart sense for water management and water and energy conservation."
The sensors work by combining magnetic resistance and radio frequency to enable on-demand watering, providing a localized alternative to current technologies of soil-based moisture monitoring and aerial infrared imaging. The technology was developed in the University of Colorado Department of Aerospace Engineering, and was the subject of a $150,000 Small Business Technology Transfer grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2008. The first patent covering the technology was granted late last year.
"AgriHouse has been extremely efficient in converting this technology from lab demonstration to pilot production," said Ted Weverka, a licensing manager at the University of Colorado Technology Transfer Office. "They get the technology in front of the customer, get feedback and launch product without delay."
AgriHouse is currently beta-testing wireless versions of the sensor, which would enable use in home gardeners, greenhouses, farmers and other large-scale operations. Both the current version and the wireless leaf sensor interface seamlessly into precision irrigation control software developed by AgriHouse.