Reduce water consumption in urban agriculture in arid climates

Final report for FW20-359

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $20,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/01/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G271-20-W7900
Grant Recipient: Merchant's Garden AgroTech Inc
Region: Western
State: Arizona
Principal Investigator:
Chaz Shelton
Merchant's Garden AgroTech Inc
Expand All

Project Information


SARE Combined Document 2-2-23. Past TenseThis project seeks to evaluate the water consumption of urban agriculture in arid climates.  Increased climate change has amplified the attention of water consumption in agriculture.  New farming methods are being evaluated with the intent to reduce the use of water consumption while increasing yield to address the growing population's demand for food. Much research provides evidence of the reduced water consumption of alternative farming methods for large scale agriculture.  However, little research has been conducted on the effectiveness of these methods in arid climates for urban farming. With increased climate change comes increased arid land.  More research focused on the viability of farming in arid climates must be performed in order to lower the barriers for new farmers to utilize more sustainable farming practices. This project will evaluate the consumption of water in urban farming in Tucson Arizona.  The research will be conducted at a commercial urban farm, Merchant's Garden utilizing smart-water sensors to aggregate powerful data insights to evaluate the effectiveness of urban farming in the arid climate of Southern Arizona.  Data will be collected in real-time and assessed by technical adviser from the University of Arizona.  The results of this research will provide a foundation for water policy change and cost reduction for farmings in arid climates

Project Objectives:
  1. Objective: Increased accuracy of measuring water consumption with Smart Sensors in urban agriculture
    • Measure: Water added to the grow system & water added to the cooling system
    • Baseline: 2016-2018 historical data from Merchant’s Garden
    • Goal: 95% or greater accuracy for 3 consecutive months in Q2 or Q3 of 2020
    • Calculation: ((Sum of Smart meters report) - Monthly City Meter Report) / Monthly City Meter Report
    • Who: Parker Filer, will provide planning oversight. Chaz will implement. Dr. Kacira will review and advise
  1. Objective: Reduced water consumption of urban farming in arid climates
    • Measure: Gallons/Head of lettuce
    • Baseline: Average of 2016 & 2017 Data
    • Goal: 15% reduction in water consumption per head
    • Calculation: System updates on monthly log
    • Who: Technical advisor, Parker Filer, will provide planning oversight. Chaz Shelton will implement. Murat Kacira will review and advise
  1. Objective: Encourage the adoption of urban water rates by development and distribution of a case study
    • Measure: Number of regional stakeholders. Number of stakeholders attending presentation
    • Baseline: 0
    • Goal: 50,000 by the end of the project in Q4 2021
    • Calculation: email open rate and attendance numbers
    • Who: Parker Filer will lead classroom based education. Dr. Kacira will lead conference presentations. Chaz Shelton will city engagement  


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Parker Filer - Technical Advisor
  • Dr. Murat Kacira (Educator and Researcher)
  • Chaz Shelton - Producer


Materials and methods:

Merchant’s Garden is an urban greenhouse farm located in Tucson Arizona that grows leafy greens year-round to serve Southern Arizona.  The research for this project will be conducted in the 10,000 SQFT commercial greenhouse.  This project will conduct a 2-year analysis comparing the farm’s financial and water consumption change after using smart sensing devices to monitor water consumption.  An ROI analysis will be performed to demonstrate the payback required to generate financial return on the capital expenditure invested.  Merchant’s Garden will pay the initial capital requirements to install the industrial and smart meters and then assess the changes in farm income and total water consumption for an urban farm that utilize access to high speed internet tools to manage farm water use.  Merchant’s Garden has 3 years of historical data that will serve as the benchmark comparison data to assess the on-farm water consumption and financial change. 

Objective 1 Increased accuracy of measuring water consumption with Smart Sensors in urban agriculture

Task A - Install Smart Meters

The installation of the hardware is the first step to effectively achieve the overall project goal of reducing water consumption and increasing financial performance in urban agriculture.  Beyond working with the City of Tucson to install the industrial meter, installation of the irrigation hardware will allow for the capture of data in a digital format.  Prior to the new meter installation, smart irrigation meters will be installed to understand where and what volumes water is being used in the greenhouse. Once the new industrial meter is installed, the smart meters will provide a more detailed assessment of where any changes in water consumption may occur, if at all.  By installing smart water meters, the farm operation can measure location of water consumption, time of consumption, and volume of consumption in real time.

Start date & Completion Date:

April 2020 – Aug 2020

Required Resources:

Cash, Greenhouse Hardware, New Industrial Meter, Data,

Who will do the work?

Intern #1, Intern #2, City of Tucson, University of Arizona & Chaz Shelton

Task B Install Industrial Water Meter

Once 5 months of data is gathered using the smart meters at the current water rate, the next step is to work with the City of Tucson to install a third-party industrial meter. This requires roughly 2 weeks of work on the city’s part.

Task C Compare Data

Following the installation of the new meter, 5 months of new data will be gathered.  Technical advisor, Parker Filer, and the University of Arizona will provide data analysis support and lead the efforts of assess the environmental impact, specifically the change in water consumption for an urban farmer.

Objective 2: Reduced water consumption of urban farming in arid climates

Making the data actionable is critical to truly extract value through the project efforts. With real time data coming from sensors, the second year of the project can be spent making incremental changes to improve water efficiency. Two data interns will be used to provide weekly assessments of where water is being consumed. A monthly meeting with held with Dr. Kacira to access water use relative to need. The next month new steps will be implemented.

Start date & Completion Date:

April 2020 – Aug 2020

Required Resources:

Cash, Greenhouse Hardware, New Industrial Meter, Data,

Who will do the work?

Intern #1, Intern #2, City of Tucson, University of Arizona & Chaz Shelton


Objective 2.B: Improve farm financial performance (Additional)

A return on investment analysis will be conducted to determine the degree of farm financial performance.  This University of Arizona will provide oversight on this analysis.  The investment considered is the capital expenditure to invest in a new water meter.  This investment will be compared to the amount of time required to gain additional operating income to the amount invested.

Start date & Completion Date:

April 2020 – Aug 2020

Required Resources:

Cash, Greenhouse Hardware, Data, Greenhouse Hardware

Who will do the work?

Intern #1, Intern #2, University of Arizona & Chaz Shelton

Objective 4: Encourage the adoption of smart meter use in urban water rates by development and distribution of a case study

Following the analysis, Merchant’s Garden will work with the Dr. Murat Kacira from University of Arizona to compile a case study that provides a background of the project, efforts, and results.  This case study will be distributed to the following stakeholders in Tucson: City of Tucson Water Department, Pima County Sewage, Tucson Mayor and Councilmembers.  Additionally, a meeting will be scheduled to discuss the results and the proposed policy recommendations. 


Also, the results will be shared with local farmers in Southern Arizona through case study flyers and presentations will be presented to Arizona Farm Bureau, Southern Arizona Young Farmer and Rancher Association, and the Southern Arizona Farmer Network.

List and describe each planned activity:


Digital newsletter, Presentation, Workshop, Farmer Meeting, Digital newsletter

Anticipated Completion Date:


Required Resources:

Cash, Greenhouse Hardware, Web Developers, Data, Greenhouse Hardware, Coders, Designers.


A.    U. of Arizona Extension Presentation

B.    Forbes AgTech Summit Presentation

C.    U. of Arizona Short-Course

D.    Southern Arizona Farm Network Presentation

E.     American Farm Bureau Presentation

Who will do the work?

Dr. Murat Kacira, Parker Filer, University of Arizona, Farm Bureau, Forbes, Intern #1, Chaz Shelton


Success Metrics

Annual goals and a break-out of the goals by first six-month and full twelve-months.


6 Month

12 Month

Water Savings



Educated Farmers



Local water rate

Present to City Council

Establish agriculture rate



Research results and discussion:

Water savings was the primary goal of the project.  However, due to the 6 month delay in the project caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the results have not yet been realized.  We anticipate with an additional 6-12 month monitoring of data, the project will be able to realize 10% savings in water consumption. We believe that our initial goal of 20% was too aggressive.


Due to COVID-19 social distances requirements, the outreach efforts would not achieved on farm.  The anticipated goal was to educate 2,000 farmers over a 12-month period. This project pivoted by creating an educational video that was promoted on Youtube.  Viewership was tracked but it cannot be determined that viewers were farmers.


Our final goal was to utilize this research as a basis to encourage policy makers to create a new irrigation rate for local farms in Tucson Arizona. 


Below is an example of the data collected every 15 minutes.

We are compiling data and not yet drawing and results. That activity is to come. 


4.a. Number of individuals who learned about prevention, detection, control, and intervention food safety practices

Goal: 20-30
Actual: 26

4.b. Number of those individuals who reported increasing their food safety skills and knowledge

Goal: 10-15
Actual: 26

Number of growers or producers who obtained on-farm food safety certifications (such as Good Agricultural Practices or Good
Handling Practices)

Goal: 2-3
Actual: 1

Participation Summary
5 Producers participating in research

Research Outcomes

4 New working collaborations

Education and Outreach

2 Consultations
2 On-farm demonstrations
3 Published press articles, newsletters

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:

Outreach Plan






U. of Arizona Extension

May 2021


Digital newsletter

Factsheets & Article

Forbes AgTech Summit

June 2020

Salinas, CA


Social Media

U. of Arizona Short-Course

Jan 2020

Tucson, AZ



Southern Arizona Farm Network

April 2020

Tucson, AZ

Farmer Meeting


American Farm Bureau

July 2020


Digital newsletter

Article & Social Media

Industry Outreach

Merchant’s Garden spoke at a panel at Forbes Magazine’s AgTech Summit in Indianapolis, Indiana.  The panel, “How Vertical Farming and Aquaponics are Changing the Definition of Grown Locally.”  The company was asked to speak again at the 2019 Summit.  There Merchant’s Garden will share the efforts of this project.  Forbes shared this discussion on its digital platforms like Facebook, Youtube, and its website.  Over 100 million individuals view content on one of Forbes platforms.  Additionally, Merchant’s Garden was highlighted in American Farm Bureau’s web and print newsletter with updates on their farm research and business progress.  Farm Bureau has over 8 million members of which 2 million are farmers.  If funded by SARE, Merchant’s Garden will provide project updates through both Forbes Magazine and American Farm Bureau about the research efforts which will collectively reach over a 100 million people in the agriculture industry.


Hands-on Outreach

MG with extension agent Parker Filer plans to share its finding with local farmers in the Southern Arizona Farm Network.  Southern Arizona Farm Network is comprised of 8-12 farms in the Tucson greater region who are committed to providing local products to their community.  This non-profit is organized and facilitated by the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.  Quarterly the farmers in this organization meet in-person at the Food Bank.  Merchant’s Garden will provide handouts at a field-day to these farmers on the progress and findings of their study.  Additionally, MG will provide demonstration videos online through their social media for these farmers.  These videos will break down step-by-step how to implement the proposed practices on their farm. 

MG also plans to work with Dr. Murat Kacira to provide a presentation at the short-courses offered at the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environmental Agriculture Center (CEAC). “The CEAC Extension and Outreach Programs include: the Annual Arizona Greenhouse Crop Production and Engineering Design Short Course; the Lunar Greenhouse – Outreach and Teaching Module (LGH-OTM); Social Media postings to Facebook, twitter, Instagram and You-Tube; On-site Tours, Meetings, Demonstrations and Conferences at the UA-CEAC; Newsletter and News Splash e-publications; and, Design and Analysis Services to homeowners, business developers, and entrepreneurs; Development of the Production & Education Greenhouse as an income generating, self-supporting entity.”  MG will partner with the CEAC Extension Office and provide social media content, handouts, and PowerPoint Presentations presented at the University quarterly.  The formal results of the proposal will be disseminated through the Cooperative Extension to regional offices across the state.



Farm Tours
- January 27, 2021: University of Arizona Student Group - Assistant
Professor Dr. Matthew Recsetar and his controlled-environment growing class, focusing on aquaponics, visited and toured the nursery. 15 people attended.
- May 15, 2021: Southwest Indian Agricultural Association (SWIAA) - MG
partnered with SWIAA to offer a farm tour of their urban hydroponic and aquaponic growing facilities to SDA Native American farmers and ranchers. 10

Activities developed are related to Objective 1, Activity 1.1: Outreach and Education; & Objective 5, Activity 5.1: Creating New

Page 3 of 5

people were in attendance for the tour.
- July 17, 2021: Veterans Agricultural Education and Apprenticeship Program in the Southwest (VAEAP) - MG provided a farm tour and work
experience to 10 SDA Veteran beginning farmers/ranchers. Participants in this program are all military veterans pursuing agricultural careers.

and Sustainable Jobs

Attendance at Community Meetings
- April 13, 2021: TUSD Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program - Chaz Shelton from MG made a presentation to schools across AZ interested in farm
sourcing. Hosted by the Arizona Department of Education’s Farm to School program.
- June 4, 2021: High School Career Connect – MG staff member Danielle Fowler conducted a job shadow/virtual tour of the day-to-day life of a farmer
for 30 9 th grade students for the ElevateEdAZ program.
- October 11, 2021: Bill Shriver from MG visited the Tucson Assisted Living Center, taught residents about hydroponic and aquaponic production, and
assisted in the set-up of a hydroponic greens garden on the campus.

Activities developed are related to Objective 1, Activity 1.1: Outreach and Education & Objective 5, Activity 5.3: Information Sharing

University of Arizona Technical Assistance Collaboration - MG is working with Dr. Matthew Recsetar, Assistant Professor with the University of Arizona Controlled Environment and Agriculture Center. Dr. Recsetar is also the CEO of a small business, Patio Ponics LLC, that specializes in aquaponic and hydroponic production systems. He has been working with MG to identify how to create ideal conditions for organic herb production in their greenhouses, which will allow MG to extend their growing season substantially and offer more products at market year-round. The experimental results were documented in a White Paper delivered with this report.

Activities developed are related to Objective 1, Activity 1.2: Working with Researchers at the U of A Controlled Environment Agriculture Center

Education and outreach results:
40 Farmers intend/plan to change their practice(s)

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

We have not started the outreach portion of our project yet. More information to come.



40 Producers reported gaining knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness as a result of the project

Information Products

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.