As a case study, this paper shows how a French cooperative seized on a new technology (capacitance sensors), tested it in real conditions (irrigation of maize in several Agronomic Department trial fields) and is now able to offer to its farmer members a subscriber decision support tool (DST) to increase water use efficiency.
Thus, technical and scientific trials have been conducted with fourteen farmers over the last four years. Managing irrigation with capacitance probes has resulted in an increase in water efficiency: most of the time, there is a reduction in water supply (the average is 22% (range 4–44%) less water use than without the probes). Sometimes, only a yield increase is observed with the same water quantity (see 2010 trial – farmer 2).
In 2012 Terrena conducted market research on 28 farmer members and 20 crop advisors. This showed that most farmers who irrigate do not use irrigation management tools. However with a tightening of regulations and an increase in irrigation costs, attitudes are changing. Thus, 12 farmers questioned, said they were ready to pay for an irrigation management service based on capacitance probes (continuous real time monitoring of soil moisture). It also showed that irrigation advice needs to take into account global irrigation system constraints (number of rollers, pump speed and the like). Farmers are ready to pay for an efficient irrigation management DST.
So as to be ready for a 2013 launch, a DST soft-launch was set-up in 2012 on ten experimental farms. The usual working practices of irrigators cannot be expected to change overnight. However, this study shows how important is the farmers' involvement in the building of this service, coupled with that of their crop advisors. Because farmers were involved at the beginning of the DST creation process, it made it possible to convince all of them to use this tool in a more sustainable manner.