Media literacy and talking plants

Jay Owen Community Development Solutions

 in Conservation

As water shortages affect more parts of the globe, strategic irrigation practices are becoming key to achieving optimal water efficiency on farms, especially those located in drought-stricken areas. A technology called GrowStream is designed to provide exactly this type of solution — by enabling irrigation systems on farms to communicate directly with plants.

When a plant gets thirsty, it releases a special chemical into the surrounding soil. Developed by a company called Responsive Drip Irrigation, GrowStream uses tubes that have a pore-filled polymer integrated within them that can sense those chemicals. “When the plants give off the chemicals, micropores start releasing the water,” says Jan Gould, the company’s founder. “So the water starts free-flowing, and the plants can slowly drink what they need.”

Once enough water gets to its roots, the plant stops emitting the chemical, and the pores close, turning the tubes into a tiny underground stream until the plants need irrigation again, explains Fast Company. Additionally, the system can be used to deliver fertilizer directly to the roots.

While other innovative irrigation systems like drip irrigation are becoming more popular, the novel technology saves substantially more water than any of them, which is useful beyond farms. In Los Angeles, for instance, the company is currently testing it on urban landscaping in a bid to contribute to the increase of green areas in the city. In side-by-side tests with a drip irrigation system in the LA pilot, GrowStream used 45 to 50 percent less water.

Currently, the technology is used in 14 countries around the world, from vegetable farms in the deserts of Abu Dhabi to smallholder farms in Zimbabwe to residual lawns in Utah. “Wherever there’s an issue with water scarcity and food security, we want to be there,” Gould says.