PILOTE, the future of irrigation working for agriculture

Can future crop yields be estimated in relation to climate and irrigation conditions? This is the aim of the PILOTE software, developed by Irstea Montpellier. The tool is now available for transfer to any interested companies.

As heavy consumers of water, agricultural holdings are frequently affected by restrictions, especially during the summer months. Irrigation is therefore seen as a safe solution to reducing pressure on crops. However, as part of the european Water framework directive (WFD), government authorities must manage the resource to the best of their ability and ensure all uses are taken into account. So which strategy is best for irrigation and farmers ?

A new decision support tool

Tools are needed to simulate the effect of water restrictions on crop yields and the farming economy. Software to manage water resources in relation to crops has therefore been developed by teams from Irstea’s Montpellier centre (particularly the ENVIRRI research team that specialises in irrigation engineering, led by Jean-Claude Mailhol): simulating and planning irrigation, according to yield targets defined by farmers.

Managing crop irrigation

PILOTE provides data for yields and water requirements for a range of crops. The software defines a complete water budget for the simulation period and even evaluates drainage (amount of lost water that does not benefit crops) and the ground’s water storage capacity.

PILOTE is made up of 2 modules :

  • The "Ground" module models water transfers in the soil at 3 distinct depths (called “reservoirs”): the ground-atmosphere interface where evaporation and plant transpiration take place, the root reservoir where crops absorb water from the soil and finally, the "deep" reservoir, limited by the maximum rooting depth.
  • The "Plant" module simulates the development of the leaf area index (a good indicator of final crop yields) in relation to water conditions and temperature sums in accordance with the various stages of plant development.

When linked to climate data (rain, temperatures, radiation etc.), the results from the 2 modules provide an estimate of yield forecasts for the crop and specific soil characteristics, in addition to an estimate of the water consumption needed to achieve targeted yields.

With few required parameters, the software can be used by the farmer to create an irrigation schedule. This is a very supportive tool.

PILOTE is protected software that is ready to move from a research phase to industrial development and is therefore available for transfer to any interested companies. It could even be linked to a wide-range tensiometer, an innovative sensor to measure the soil water status that is subject to an international patent and jointly owned by Irstea and CNRS.

For further information on the PILOTE software, please contact the Technology Transfer and Innovation Direction.

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