Naramata, BC: Today, Skaka Remote Sensing Ltd, a start-up developing unique microwave technology to map soil moisture, announced that it was awarded $198,260 of funding through the Build in Canada Innovation Program. "Water is our most precious resource and farmers recognize the importance of using it more efficiently. They have seen that technology can help produce more food and save inputs and costs," says Dr. Maik Wolleben, founder of Skaha Remote Sensing. The product is called SmartDrop, is mounted on irrigation systems to map root zone soil moisture automatically, and the BCIP funding helps the company bring this vital technology to the market.
One integral component of Skaha’s unique sensor comes from the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, a new radio telescope located at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Penticton, BC. “In a way, our sensors work like small radio telescopes that are pointed at the soil to measure water content,” says Maik. Meiling Deng, who developed the component for CHIME as a graduate student in Astrophysics at UBC, adds: “It is remarkable to see that something we developed to make the largest-ever map of the universe can also be used to map soil moisture on the scale of a crop field."
In agriculture, soil moisture is one of the most critical parameters that can make or break a crop. Currently, farmers have access to low resolution, stationary soil probes or hand feel methods to estimate subsoil moisture. Steve Larocque, Professional Agrologist and owner of Beyond Agronomy, says, "Being a farmer and crop consultant, access to accurate, high resolution, real-time soil moisture is just what we need to start managing scarce resources like water and crop inputs more accurately and more responsibly. This tool is just what we need to take our production, profitability and stewardship to another level." Skaha is now discussing potential licensing deals with large pivot manufacturers and looking to demonstrate its technology in Australia, where water is expensive.
As part of the BCIP program, Agriculture and AgriFood Canada (AAFC) is currently testing SmartDrop on eight irrigated fields across the Canadian Prairies. Some of these fields are research sites equipped with sensor stations that will be used to verify the microwave data. Other fields are operated by farmers, growing crops such as potatoes, canola and sugar beets.
About Skaha Remote Sensing Ltd.: Incorporated in 2014 and located in Naramata, BC, Skaha got started by making soil moisture sensors for drones. Being located in the Okanagan Valley allows Skaha to tap into the vibrant tech community in Penticton and Kelowna. The team is comprised of experts in agronomy, physics, and engineering.
About BCIP: The Build in Canada Innovation Program helps Canadian companies move their state-of-the-art goods and services from the laboratory to the marketplace. Through the BCIP, Canadian companies can sell their pre-qualified innovations to the federal government. After testing a company's innovation, federal departments provide feedback on the innovation's performance in an operational setting.
Maik Wolleben & Steve Larocque
Photo showing seven SmartDrop sensors installed on a large centre-pivot irrigation system in Saskatchewan.
Soil moisture map collected from a centre-pivot system located at the Demo Farm in Lethbridge, AB.