The Future of Ag Water

November 7, 2015 02:40 AM

New tool allows farmers to increase irrigation efficiency and sell conserved water

In many cases, water is the highest-valued asset on a farmer’s balance sheet. With up to 80% of renewable water rights in the West tied to agriculture, farmers need a way to enhance their benefit. SWIIM (Sustainable Water and Innovative Irrigation Management) offers a unique water monitoring and forecasting tool that protects water rights and incentivizes conservation through monetary gain.

The software suite has two components: SWIIM Planner and SWIIM Manager. SWIIM Planner allows a farmer to set up his fields based on agronomic details, such as number of acres and crop mix, and a series of strategic questions. For example: “I’d never deficit irrigate here” or “I’d never grow a particular crop on a given field.”

When a farmer’s preferences and data are entered, the algorithm figures optimal crop and water allocation. It also tells the farmer how much water will be conserved, explains Kevin France, CEO, SWIIM. 

The farmer then submits a revised crop plan to SWIIM Manager, which is used by irrigation districts and other water managers. The entity delivering the farmer’s water has to know he’s going to pull back a percentage of cubic feet per second, which equates to acre feet saved.

SWIIM is responsible for ensuring no one is gaming the system and confirms conservation to a variety of compliance groups. Once SWIIM reports a given amount of water is indeed being conserved, the farmer can lease out that amount for a fee. 

It takes less than a week to set up SWIIM—from field and software installation to monitoring and reporting.

SWIIM personnel install limited instrumentation on a farm and use remote sensing satellite and aerial flight data. The platform is hardware agnostic and can hook into data equipment already in use. 

Currently in use in northeastern Colorado and the Central Valley of California, SWIIM is targeting 822,000 farms in an 18-state area, France says. “If you take the water from those farms and value it at a lease rate of $1,200 per acre foot, it equates to $600 billion in leasable water,” he says. “If each farmer saves a quarter of their water, which is our client target, that makes $150 billion in water transfer value. That’s new income to the farmer.”

With every 500 acres covered by SWIIM, a farmer can supplement income by $50,000 to $100,000, according to France.

Water is gold. Many Western farmers face a “use it or lose it” scenario with water rights, a major roadblock to conservation that serves as a disincentive. Essentially, farmers apply 100% of water rights even if the application is inefficient because they don’t want to face degradation of those rights. 

Could SWIIM change the way ag water is distributed, bought and sold? “SWIIM provides a comprehensive tool from agricultural planning to agronomics to water management to an insurance policy,” France says. “We account for every drop of water used. Verified conservation assures that no part of a water right is lost.” 


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