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International Journal of Agricultural

Science and Research (IJASR)


ISSN(P): 2250-0057; ISSN(E): 2321-0087
Vol. 6, Issue 3, Jun 2016, 273-282
TJPRC Pvt. Ltd.

DEVELOPMENT OF LOW COST FARMER FRIENDLY SENSOR FOR


RICE WATER MANAGEMENT
R. NAGARAJAN1 & BASAMMA ALADAKATTI2
1&2

Department of SWE, TNAU, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India

ABSTRACT
Rice is the major consumer of water among all agricultural crops accounting about 70 80% of total
agricultural crop water needs. The irrigation method and water requirement at different crop growth stages largely
dictates the quantum of water to be applied for rice production. Though studies were made to apply accurate measurement
of water through sensor but they are not adopted by farmers due to various economic and operational constraints. A study
was conducted to develop a low cost farmer friendly sensor for rice water management. The study focused the fabrication
of water level sensor and testing it under laboratory and field conditions. The sensor was tested and it was linked with a
commercially available automation unit for accessing its functional performance. The water level sensor was developed on
the principle of floatation and buoyancy. In laboratory condition, the water level sensor was calibrated for the selected

commercially available automation unit developed by EMRAL Tune Line Private Limited was done to evaluate the
performance of the water level sensor under laboratory conditions and it was found that the sensor was working properly
with the linked automation unit. The water level sensor for two different standing depths namely 2.5 cm and 5.0 cm were
tested under field conditions in two locations of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University: (i) Wetlands and (ii) Eastern block
farm. At each field location, the sensor was tested in the plot of size 3m x 3m and the depth of water above the land surface
at the centre of the plot and at the four corners of the plot and the time taken for draining of water was also observed. At

Original Article

lever type micro switch using plastic square tray of size 17 x 17 cm. The preliminary testing of developed sensor with

each field location, three trials were conducted for each standing water depth. The water depth at the centre of the plot did
not vary so much but at the corners of the plot there was a minor variations (<5mm) in depth of water. The variations were
mainly due to improper leveling of field. The water level sensor was simple, precise, easy to handle and low in cost.
The cost of water level sensor is Rs. 200. The developed water level sensor for 5.0 cm, 2.5 cm depth of water and 0 cm
(for disappearance of water) which could be used in rice water management. There is a high scope of further optimization
of water level sensor where a single float should be used for all desired water depths for different types of lever type micro
switch. This could enable the quantum of water and labour saving through sensor based irrigation.
KEYWORDS: Rice, Major Water Consumer, Economic and Operational Constraints, Floatation and Buoyancy

Received: Apr 21, 2016 Accepted: May 10, 2016; Published: May 21, 2016; Paper Id.: IJASRJUN2016033

INTRODUCTION
In Asia, rice is not only the staple food, but also the major economic activity and the key source of
employment and income for the rural population. In south Asia, rice based cropping systems account for more
than half of the total acreage, where rice is grown in sequence with rice or upland crops like wheat, maize or
legumes. Water is the single most important component for sustainable rice production, especially in the
traditional rice growing areas of the region. Rice is the major consumer of water among all agricultural crops
which accounts about 70 80% of total agricultural crop water needs. Reduced investments in irrigation

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R. Nagarajan & Basamma Aladakatti

infrastructure, increased competition for water among various agricultural crops and large water withdrawals from
underground water lower the sustainability of rice production. Despite the constraints of water scarcity, rice production
need to be enhanced for the next generation to meet the food needs. Producing more rice with less water is therefore a
formidable challenge for the food, economic, social and water security of the region.
Rice is grown in more than a hundred countries, with a total harvested area of approximately 158 million hectares
in 2009, producing more than 700 million tons annually (470 million tons of milled rice). About 90% of global rice is
grown in Asia (nearly 640 million tons). As the major contributor of staple food in the world, the rice sector is also the
biggest water user. Irrigated systems alone use over 70 percent of freshwater depletions, and in Asian countries it is over 80
percent, half of which are used in rice production (Guerra et al., 1998).
Water Management in Rice
Traditionally rice is grown by hand transplanting of 25-30 day old seedling after puddling. Puddling achieved by
extensive tillage in standing water, which creates impervious layer 10-15cm below soil surface. Normally puddling is done
to reduce percolation losses, to control weeds and to makes transplanting operation easier. Puddling require lot of tillage
and water (>300 mm). Puddling destroys soil structure, which affects growth and development of succeeding upland crops
in the rotation, thereby reducing system productivity (Hobbs et al. 2002). Cultivated rice has a semi-aquatic ancestry and is
therefore extremely sensitive to water shortages. When the soil water content drops below saturation, most rice varieties
develop symptoms of water stress. Sound water management practices are needed to use water wisely and maximize rice
productivity.
To ensure sufficient water, most rice farmers aim to maintain flooded conditions in their field. This is especially
true for lowland rice. Good water management in lowland rice focuses on practices that conserve water (by eliminating the
unproductive water flows of seepage, percolation, and evaporation) while ensuring sufficient water for the crop. In rainfed
environments when optimal amounts of water may not be available for rice production, a suite of options are available to
help farmers cope with different degrees and forms of water scarcity. It includes sound land preparation and pre-planting
activities followed by techniques such as saturated soil culture, alternate wetting and drying, raised beds, mulching, and use
of aerobic rice that can cope with dry conditions.
While farmers are practicing higher depth of continuous submergence in the order of 7 10 cm, the scientific
water management normally requires to a maximum of 5 cm in a wide range of agro climatic environments. This is
normally advocated only at a few stages of crop growth like flowering, panicle initiation and reproductive stage of the
crop, with every irrigation after disappearance of the ponding water on the surface (micro crack formation in the field). In
other stages like 25 days after transplanting, tillering and ripening stage require very shallow intermittent submergence of 2
3 cm. Recently advocated System of Rice Intensification (SRI) requires only less submergence or ponding water above
the surface in the order of 2 5 cm, with next irrigation is to be done on the disappearance of ponding water.
Though findings are available, the accurate water application to a particular depth could not be adopted by the
farmers due to non use of any water measuring devices and also due to the misconception that higher standing water
(continuous submergence) increases the crop yield. Further, the water managers from canals of regions also allow water
based upon the supply side availability and not based upon the actual demand, based upon field requirement. The above
point if addressed properly and adopted, even reduction of 2 cm depth of water brings about 40 to 50 % water saving for

Impact Factor (JCC): 4.7987

NAAS Rating: 3.53

Development of Low Cost Farmer Friendly Sensor for Rice Water Management

275

rice crop production. To achieve this, a proper instrumentation is the only option for providing optimum depth of water
above the surface or facilitating optimum soil moisture condition at certain stages of crop growth. In order to bring this
concept for reality in implementation of water level sensor for applying pre-determined depth of water above the surface.
Attempts were made to apply automatic irrigation and drainage by using water level sensors and soil moisture
sensors in Indonesia in early 2000. Satiawan et. al., (2001) tried to control the water level by operating irrigation and
drainage pumps. Those techniques using cables, pressure type water level sensors and transmission data gained satisfactory
results and they had the limitation of cost and it needs some knowledge to operate. They have also limited capability while
dealing with larger areas of paddy fields. These sensors are used only by researchers, academic and research institutions
and they are not widely used by the farmers in their fields. Keeping the above factors in the mind, the present investigation
is proposed with the objective to develop a water level sensor for rice water management and to link the developed sensor
with an automation unit for assessing its functional performance.

MATERIALS AND METHODS


Archimedes' Principle
The principle of floatation and buoyancy is being employed in the design of water level sensor. Archimedes'
principle relates buoyant force and displacement of fluid. However, the concept of Archimedes' principle can be applied
when considering floating objects. Any floating object displaces its own weight of fluid. This is often called the "principle
of flotation": When a body is immersed in a fluid either wholly or partially it is subjected to an upward force which tends
to lift it up. This tendency for an immersed body to be lifted up in the fluid, due to the upward force due to the action of
gravity, is known as buoyancy. The force tending to lift up the body under such conditions is known as buoyant force.
Development of Water Level Sensor
The water level sensor consists of the components like, Lever type switch, floating containers, Nylon rope,
cylindrical mesh and Distilled water. The schematic diagram of the water level sensor is shown in the Figure 3.1 and the
sensor is shown in the Plate 3.1. The sensor was developed under the laboratory conditions for different standing water
depths by adding different weights of floating containers which was connected to the selected lever type micro switch
using the nylon rope. A square tray of size (17 x 17 cm) was taken and a hole was made at the bottom side of the tray to
imitate the water losses like percolation and infiltration from the field. The depth of the tray was 15.5 cm. A HDPE pipe of
16 mm diameter with the regulating valve was connected to the hole which was used to release the water from the tray. The
plastic stand of 35 cm height was fitted on one side of the rectangular tray. The switch was fitted with the top of the stand
with the help of screws and the container was connected to the switch using the rope and it was hanged inside the tray. A
LED with the battery was connected to the switch for the indication of ON & OFF of the lever type micro switch. The 15
cm scale was fixed inside the tray to note the readings of the water level inside the tray based upon weight loss and weight
gain under submergence / non submergence of the floating body (containers). Three standing water depths viz., 1.2 cm,
2.5 cm, 5.0 cm were maintained in the tray each time separately. For each standing water depth, the floating container was
selected based upon its weight loss and weight gain by drawing of water and thereby releasing the floating containers from
submergence. The lever type micro switch was operated due to weight loss and weight gain of the floating body for each
pre-determined standing water depth and entire disappearance of entire water depth. These two stages were indicated
through the Light Emitting Diode by ON (blinking) and OFF mode. The weight loss and weight gain under these two
processes were calculated for each of the floating container corresponding to a pre-determined depth of standing water in
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R. Nagarajan & Basamma Aladakatti

the tray.

Plate 3.1: Water Level Sensor

Figure 3.1:
3.1 Schematic Diagram of Water Level Sensor

RESULTS AND DISCUSSIONS


Calibration of Water Level Sensor under Laboratory Condition
The standing water level was noted for different cylindrical containers. Depending upon the weight of the
cylindrical containers, the standing water level would vary. The dimensions and weight of the containers and the standing
water level for the corresponding containers are given in Table 4.1. For each floating container, maximum water level and
minimum water level during cutoff and triggering point respectively were observed consecutively 5 times
tim by repeatedly
draining and filling the water in the tray. For every chosen floating container, the mean value of maximum and minimum
water level were found out and the same was summarized in the Table 4.2. From the Table 4.1 it could be seen that there
are very little variations in the standing water depth which may due to observational error. However the 1.2 cm depth of
water could be maintained in all four observations and there was a variation of 0.1 cm in one of the trials. The standing
water depth off the containers was ranging from 1.2 to 2.5cm. The standing water level for the rice crop will be 5 cm so two
containers are used and they are tied with each other using the nylon rope. The dimensions and weight of the containers
tied and the standing water
er depth for the sensor is shown in the Table.4.2.
Table.4.2
The weight acting on the selected lever type micro switch varies depending upon the level of submergence of the
floating object. From the Table 4.3, it could be seen that 100 % of submergence of weight was
wa attained for the floating
container corresponding to 1.2 cm and 2.5 cm standing depth of water. In the case of float with different configurations

Impact Factor (JCC): 4.7987

NAAS Rating: 3.53

Development of Low Cost Farmer Friendly Sensor for Rice Water Management

277

having less diameter and more height due to the connection of two floating containers, the floating body was not fully
submerged. In this case, only 90.2 percent of the whole float was under submergence. Depending upon the selection of
floating body and its configuration namely diameter and height and thereby volume, the cutoff weight and triggering
weight are varying for each selected float. By changing the configuration of the float with little modifications of diameter
and height, different standing depth of water level could be attained with the same lever type micro switch. The
standardized dimensions of floating body with different depth of water level in laboratory conditions are taken to the field
and the same was tested for 2 depths of standing water level namely 2.5 cm & 5.0cm above the land surface.
Field Testing of Water Level Sensor
Field tests were conducted to evaluate the performance of the water level sensor in two different soils and the
sensor was installed in the real field conditions. Test location was selected in two places of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural
University. (i) The wetlands of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore and the (ii) Eastern farm of Tamil
Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, and the field was located at 11N latitude and 77E longitude. The topography
of the experimental plots in the both places are uniform and levelled. The water level sensor was first tested in the small
plot of size 3m x 3m (Plate 4.1). Bunds were raised at the sides of the plot for the height of 10 cm. The water source for
irrigating the plot was taken from the well by using pump. The sensor was installed at the centre of the plot by making a
hole of 10 cm diameter and 15 cm depth from the soil surface so that the triggering point in the floating container will be
equal to the level of the soil surface. The remaining portion under the triggering point of the floating container is freely
hanged inside the hole. The LED was connected to the sensor to indicate ON and OFF. The start and stop of the irrigation
was done with the indication of LED. The water depth in the four corner sides of the plot was noted with the help of scales
fixed at the four corners of the plot at the irrigation stop situation that was indicated by the LED. The time taken for
draining of water in the plot was also noted.
Testing of Water Level Sensor at Wetlands
The water level sensors were tested at wetlands in a small plot of size (3m x 3m). Bunds were constructed at the
sides of the plot of 30 cm width and10 cm height. The water level sensors were tested for the water depth of 5 cm and 2.5
cm and the corresponding standing water depth at the four corners of the plot was observed. The time taken for draining of
water was also observed. The results observed are shown in the Table 4.4 and Table 4.5. The water level sensor was kept in
the centre of the plot and the water was allowed into the plot using the pumping system. From the Table 4.4, it could be
seen that at the centre of the plot where the sensor was installed and there was no variation in standing depth of water in the
first two trials and it was recorded as 5.0 cm. In the third trial the standing depth of water at the centre of the plot was
increased by 0.1cm. For 5.0 cm depth of water above the land surface, there is no variation in the water depth at the corners
1 and 2 in the first two trials but the water level at the corner 3 and corner 4 was 4.9 and 5.45 cm. This might be due to the
improper levelling of the field. In the third trial, there was an increase in depth of water by 0.1 cm in corner 1 and corner 2
and it was recorded as 5.1. In corner 3 and corner 4, it was recorded as 5.1 and 5.5 respectively. For the depth of water of
2.5 cm, it could be seen that from the Table 4.5, the depth of water level at the corner 1, corner 2 and at the centre of the
plot were 2.5 cm. It varied at corners 3 and 4 and was recorded as 2.3 and 4.0 cm respectively. In the third trial the water
depth at corners 1, 2 and at centre of the plot it was recorded as 2.6 cm. In corners 3 and 4, it was recorded as 2.4 and 3.1
cm respectively. These variations might be due to tiny level difference with in the plot.

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R. Nagarajan & Basamma Aladakatti

Testing of Water Level Sensor at Eastern Block Farm


The water level sensors were tested at eastern block farm in a small plot of size (3m x 3m). Bunds were constructed at the
sides of the plot of 30 cm width and10 cm height. The water level sensors were tested for the water depth of 5 cm and 2.5
cm and the corresponding water levels at the four corners of the plot was observed. The time taken for draining of water
was also observed. The results observed are shown in the Table. 4.6 and Table 4.7. From the Table 4.6, the water depth at
the corners of the field was increased to the maximum of 5.2 cm in corner 1 and the water level of 4.9 cm was observed in
the corner 3 in the first trial. For the depth of 2.5 cm, it is observed from the Table 4.7, the water depth at the corner 2,
corner 3 and centre of the plot was recorded as 2.5 cm in the 1st and 3rd trial and it was increased to 2.6 cm in the 2nd trial.
But in corner 1, the water depth above the soil surface was observed as 2.7 cm in the trials 1 and 3 and 2.8 cm in trial 2. In
corner 4, the water depth above the land surface was observed as 2.2 cm in trial 1 and 3 and 2.3 cm in trial 2. At both the
field locations the minor variations of water depth at the corners of the field is due to the improper levelling of the field.
The variation in water depth above the land surface might also due to the water entry at the corner in a few seconds
(time taken) for closure of the inlet water supply by manual operation.

Plate 4.1: Testing of Water Level Sensor in the Field


Preliminary Testing of Developed Sensor with an Automation Unit
Preliminary testing of developed sensor with a commercially available automation unit developed by EMRAL
tune line private limited was conducted to evaluate the performance of the water level sensor in the laboratory
conditions(Plate. 4.2) The plastic tray of size 0.75m x 0.5m was taken and a hole was made at the bottom side of the tray. A
HDPE pipe of 16 mm diameter with the regulating valve was connected to the hole to drain the water from the tray. The
tray was filled with sandy soil for a depth of 10 cm. The sensor unit inside the cylindrical mesh was installed at the centre
of the tray and it is connected to the automation unit. The automation unit consists of the pump of 0.5hp. When the pump is
switched ON the water level will gradually increase and when it reaches the desired depth the pump will be switched OFF
automatically and the standing water level was noted. The readings of water level and time taken to drain and fill the
predetermined water depth were taken. The observed readings of time taken to drain and filling of predetermined water
depth are shown in the Table. 4.8. It could be seen from Table 4.8 the time taken for the disappearance of water, to rain 2.5
cm under laboratory condition was much less (10 minutes) compared to 3.5 hours in the field soil at Eastern block of
TNAU (Table 4.7). This variation was largely due to manual draining of water through a gate valve under laboratory
conditions compared to slow infiltration process in natural soils at the field condition of eastern block of TNAU

Impact Factor (JCC): 4.7987

NAAS Rating: 3.53

Development of Low Cost Farmer Friendly Sensor for Rice Water Management

279

Plate 4.2: Sensor with the Automation Unit


Table 4.1: Observation of Different Standing Water Depth (cm) for Different Floating Containers

Table 4.2: Mean Values of Maximum Water Level, Minimum Water


Level and Standing Water Depth in the Tray

Table 4.3: Weight Loss and Weight Gain by Lever Type Micro Switch for Selected Floating Containers
Weight of the Weight Gain by the
Weight loss to Volume of Water
Standing Depths of
Volume of the
Container Float to Actuate the
Volume of Water Displaced
Actuate Micro Displaced during
Water in the Tray Floating Container ( Empty weight Lever Type Micro
During the Triggering of
Switch at Cutoff Cutoff of the Micro
(cm)
(m3)
+ Distilled
Switch at
the Micro Switch (m3)
Point (g)
Switch (m3)
water) (g) Triggering Point (g)
1.2 cm depth of water
1.113 10-4
121.9
33.73
121.9
1.113 10-4
8.814 10-5

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R. Nagarajan & Basamma Aladakatti

6.005 10-5
2.852 10-4

2.5 cm depth of water


5.0 cm depth of water

61.4
40.2

Table 4.3: Contd.,


37.40
15.20

61.4
37.4

6.005 10-5
2.852 10-4

2.404 10-5
2.577 10-5

Table 4.4: Observed Values of Standing Water Depth of 5 cm in Four Corners of the
Field and Time Taken for the Disappearance of Water at Wetlands of TNAU
S. No
1
2
3

Water Level at 4 Corners of the Plot (cm)


C1 C2
C
C3
C4
5.0 5.0 5.0 4.9 5.45
5.0 5.0 5.0 4.9 5.45
5.1 5.1 5.1 5.0 5.5

Time Taken for


Disappearance of Water
19 hrs 30 min
22 hrs 05 min
22 hrs 25 min

Table 4.5: Observed Values of Standing Water Depth of 2.5 cm in Four Corners of the
Field and Time Taken for the Disappearance of Water at Wetlands of TNAU
S. No
1
2
3

water Level at 4 Corners of the Plot (cm)


c1
c2
c
c3
c4
2.5
2.5
2.5
2.3
3.0
2.5
2.5
2.5
2.3
3.0
2.6
2.6
2.6
2.4
3.1

Time Taken for


Disappearance of Water
6 hrs 35 min
8 hrs 58 min
9 hrs 10 min

Table 4.6: Observed Values of Standing Water Depth of 5 cm in Four Corners of the Field and
Time Taken for the Disappearance of Water at Eastern Block Farm (TNAU)
Water Level at 4 Corners of the Plot (cm)
C1
C2
C
C3
C4
5.1
4.95
5.0
4.9
5.0
5.1
5.0
5.0
4.9
5.0
5.2
5.1
5.0
5.0
5.1

S. No
1
2
3

Time Taken for


Disappearance of Water
14 hrs 40 min
15 hrs 20 min
15 hrs 55 min

Table 4.7: Observed Values of Standing Water Depth of 2.5 cm in Four Corners of the Field and
Time Taken for the Disappearance of Water at Eastern Block Farm (TNAU)
Water level at 4 Corners of the Plot (cm)
C1
C2
C
C3
C4
2.7
2.5
2.5
2.5
2.2
2.8
2.6
2.6
2.6
2.3
2.7
2.5
2.5
2.5
2.2

S. No
1
2
3

Time Taken for


Disappearance of Water
2 hrs 50 min
3 hrs 25 min
3 hrs 42 min

Table 4.8: Time Taken to Drain and Fill of Predetermined Water Depth
S. No

Water level (cm)

1
2
3
4
5

2.5 cm

Time Taken to Fill the


Water Depth of 2.5cm
(Seconds)
12
11
12
12
12

Time Taken for the


Disappearance of
Water
9 min 7 sec
9 min 34 sec
9 min 45 sec
9 min 45 sec
10 min 06 sec

CONCLUSIONS
The present study has been undertaken to develop a low cost farmer friendly sensor for rice water management.
The study involved the development and fabrication of the water level sensor in laboratory conditions, field testing of
water level sensor, connecting the water level sensor with the commercially available automation unit at the laboratory
level. The water level sensor was developed on the principle of floatation and buoyancy. The water level sensor for two
different standing depths namely 2.5 cm and 5.0 cm were tested under field conditions in two locations of Tamil Nadu
Impact Factor (JCC): 4.7987

NAAS Rating: 3.53

Development of Low Cost Farmer Friendly Sensor for Rice Water Management

281

Agricultural University (i) Wetlands and (ii) Eastern block farm. The developed water level sensor was connected to the
automation unit and it was observed that the sensor was working properly and the motor was switched ON and OFF
automatically with respect to the pre-set value of water depth. The cost of the sensor was Rs. 200. These sensors are
cheaper than the sensors available in the market. In order to derive a firm conclusion that, the developed water level sensor
for 5 cm, 2.5 cm and 0.0 cm (for disappearance of water) which can be used in rice water management. The future research
and scope for the water level sensors is possible by calibrating the different floating bodies for different types of lever type
micro switch. There is a scope for further optimization of water level sensor where a single float should be used for all
desired water depths.
REFERENCES
1.

Guerra, L.C, Bhuiyan, S.I., Tuong, T.P. & Barker, R. 1998. Producing more rice with less water from irrigated systems. SWIM
Paper No. 5, Colombo, International Water Management Institute.

2.

Hobbs. P. R., Singh. Y., Giri. G. S., Lauren. J. G., and Duxbury. J. M. 2002. Direct-seeding and reduced-tillage options in the
rice-wheat systems of the Indo-Gangetic Plains of South Asia. In: Direct seeding: research issues and opportunities.
Proceedings of the International Workshop on Direct Seeding in Asian Rice Systems: Strategic Research Issues and
Opportunities, 25-28 January 2000, Bangkok, Thailand. P 201-218.

3.

Setiawan, B.I, Y. Sato, S.K. Saptomo, E. Saleh. 2001b. Development of Water Control for Tropical Wetland Agriculture.
International conference sustainable soil management for environmental protection - soil physical aspect. Firenze 2-7 July
2001.

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