Turn the Tap: Integrated Research to Support Sustainable Irrigation Practices on Northeast Vegetable Farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Research Only
Funds awarded in 2019: $124,982.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Joshua Faulkner
University of Vermont Extension


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: irrigation
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, focus group

    Proposal abstract:

    The northeastern (NE) U.S. is home to a growing vegetable industry. While irrigation is widely used on NE vegetable farms, few growers rely upon soil moisture sensors to schedule irrigation. Many farmers over-irrigate (leading to nutrient leaching) or under-irrigate (leading to decreased yields/quality). Better information about soil moisture conditions, tailored to the scale and diversity of NE farms, can greatly improve irrigation efficiency while protecting water quality/supply in an era of climate change. Soil moisture sensors are commonly used in other regions and sectors, but systems are often not optimized for NE growers, nor are they widely used by this group. Our project will work towards enhanced use and usability of precision irrigation in NE vegetable systems through an integrated field and social science investigation.

    Our project has two hypotheses and two research questions:
    H1: Use of soil moisture monitoring systems (a) improves vegetable yield/product quality, (b) decreases nutrient leaching, and (c) reduces water applied per unit harvested.
    H2: Following exposure and education, farmers will demonstrate changes in knowledge, attitudes, and awareness related to soil moisture technology.
    RQ1: What are the current barriers that keep NE farmers from investing in soil moisture sensing technology?
    RQ2: What changes to current tools/data systems should be made to increase their usefulness for NE vegetable growers?
    To test our hypotheses and answer the research questions, we will conduct field to evaluate three “cues to irrigation” including crop condition/feel of soil, timers, and soil moisture sensors. The dependent variables will be yield, crop quality, nutrient leaching, and soil nutrient content. We will also conduct focus groups, including pre- and post-surveys to measure change in farmers’ knowledge, attitudes, and awareness related to soil moisture technology in the context of climate change in the NE. We will have physical examples of tools for participants to handle. In addition, industry representatives have been invited to demonstrate several hard- and software systems.

    We will share the results of our research and evaluate its impact on growers’ decision making through: (1) an onsite field demonstration, (2) workshop presentations, (3) fact sheets, and (4) blog postings/newsletter articles. Post workshop questionnaires will be used as appropriate to measure changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills, and awareness. We will publish 1-2 scholarly manuscripts, though these may be completed beyond the term of the funding period.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    (1) Develop best practices for deploying soil moisture sensors on diversified farms in the NE and using sensor data to inform irrigation decisions.

    (2) Develop a better understanding about what NE farmers need from soil moisture monitoring systems to enable them to use it effectively.

    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.