Using strategic irrigation is key to save water, especially at farms in areas with drought. GrowStream is a technology designed to enable irrigation systems at, for instance, farms to communicate directly with the plants.
When plants need water, they release a chemical into the soil. A company called Responsive Drip Irrigation developed the technology GrowStream. It uses tubes that have pore-filled polymer integrated within that can detect those chemicals.
“When the plants give off the chemicals, micropores start releasing the water,” says Jan Gould, the company’s founder, to Fast Company. “So the water starts free-flowing, and the plants can slowly drink what they need.”
When the plants are no longer thirsty, they stop emitting the chemical. When the technology senses that the pores in the tubes close, turning them into a tiny underground stream until the plants are thirsty again. The system can also be used to deliver fertilizer directly to the plant's roots.
Drip irrigation and other systems are becoming more popular. This new technology, however, saves substantially more water than any other irrigation system. GrowStream is useful in other places than farms as well. For example, the company is testing the technology in Los Angeles on urban areas in an attempt to contribute to the increase of green spaces in the city. When side-by-side tests with drip-irrigation were done, the GrowStream technology used 45 to 50 percent less water.
Now, the technology is used in 14 countries. The system is used at vegetable farms in the desert of Abu Dhabi, smallholder farms in Zimbabwe, and residual lawns in Utah.
“Wherever there’s an issue with water scarcity and food security, we want to be there,” Gould says.