What opportunity does Husqvarna see in Soil Scout?

By: October 14, 2019

One of the big news was last week that the Swedish Husqvarna Group has announced a venture capital investment in Soil Scout, a Finnish-based IoT start-up providing buried wireless soil monitoring solution.

This is why I thought to ask Jalmari Talola (CEO, Soil Scout) about this investment and the usage of intelligent irrigation systems in golf clubs.

Johannes-Singapore-Soil Scout

How typical is the usage of intelligent irrigation systems in golf clubs? (e.g. usage of AI)

So far most of the irrigation is mostly handled by just scheduling or manually turning on the irrigation without any detailed information about the prevailing soil conditions.

Some courses use hand-held measuring instruments but they are slow and very time-consuming to have good coverage of the field. 

On the other hand irrigation technique based on ET models are inaccurate and don’t give the needed dynamics to optimize your irrigation.

The variations the course may have are then adjusted sprinkler by sprinkler to have adequate irrigation to all areas – still wasting loads of water.

Most-advanced courses are using automatic irrigation, where real-time soil moisture information is used to optimize water use.

This is not typical but currently the public-pressure as well the inadequate water reserves are driving courses to a more advanced way of working.

By using the wireless underground soil condition sensor you don’t just get the real-time information of the moisture levels and how much you have to irrigate but also detailed understating of the infield variations your course has and what you need to do to improve it.  

By using less water means also saving fertilizers when you don’t flush them away that much.

Soil Scout sensor

How can Soil Scout usage contribute to sustainability?

By using just the right amount of water you can save precious water resources massively.

Based on studies up to 50% if irrigation is wasted as the turf and soil cannot use all the water spread to the course.

In addition, you save the environment by flushing fewer fertilizers to nature which is another major impact. 

What are the irrigation trends in golf clubs?

The major trend currently is to save water and more work with less. In many countries where water resources are under stress.

There is a perception that irrigating golf courses causes significant additional abstraction, and that this has major impacts on the environment and other abstractors, including irrigated agriculture

Golf course managers who buy their water from a municipal source may find rising prices to be of major concern

During periods of draught not only are water bills very high but municipalities may not deliver the amount of water that’s required.

Water consumption on a golf course depends on its dimension, local climate, water retention properties of substrata and water requirements of turf and can, therefore, vary from zero (in rainy seasons) to 2,500 m3/per day in a dry, hot season.

Average water consumption on a standard 18 hole golf course (with an irrigated surface of 54 ha) can be estimated at around 0.3 Hm3 per year.

At the same time, water authorities in several countries are enforcing by law the irrigation of golf courses with alternative water resources, mainly reclaimed water.

Soil Scout solution-elements-2019

What do you expect from the investment of Husqvarna Group?

Husqvarna is currently focusing heavily on managed turfs -market and we hope to reach new customers and potential partners on the side.

Husqvarna also has huge resources in planning, development and of course producing and fabricating a different product in an efficient way that we possibly get to leverage in the future

Will you develop new types of sensors? 

Absolutely yes. Our patented wireless transmitter can be used to make any low-power consuming sensor wireless.

We are constantly researching what type of underground sensors would be beneficial for our customers the most and will make them wireless.

This is also something we ask for feedback from any people in the industry.

What is the turf performance & water savings potential of these 4 irrigation scheduling techniques:  1) wireless SMS, 2) Penman-Monteith Reference ETo, 3) FRET and 4) visual wilt-based approach.

“Wireless SMS” is not a familiar irrigation strategy to us, but you’re referring to remote control of individual irrigation zones, we find it absolutely mandatory in order to push irrigation control to site-specific management. 

To us, any ET model appears as an outdated approach. First of all, the model was developed for giving estimates to be used for regional water resource management, and scaling it down to site level doesn’t really do the trick.

The models have been augmented by incorporating many secondary inputs, but still, regarding soil moisture, there is much room for severe offset in the moisture baseline.

Also, individual rain events fall very unevenly to the level that for adequate modeling rain gauges would need to be scattered no more than 500 m apart.

Throwing in slopes, water runoff etc. we end up in a situation where ET models become both very complicated and unable to assess the in-field variability in soil conditions.

In conclusion, ET models were a great tool when soil sensoring was not a viable option, but now that we can actually ask the soil itself, it is very hard to justify complicated modeling which still can only provide a large scale estimate at best.

Naturally, soil sensoring doesn’t exclude the need to keep observing turf health in all applicable manners, and we see huge potential in scheduled and automated drone-based imagery.

However, regarding water, the reality is that a top-level golf course simply cannot wait until turf is showing symptoms, while sensoring would have been able to optimize the conditions and prevent those turf health problems.

Also, turf health is not expected to indicate over-watering at all, only moisture deficit.