New partnerships formed with the community sports sector to trial turf tech-innovation

Brisbane Sustainability Agency is trialling innovative technologies with new partners to help sporting clubs use the internet-of-things in becoming more resource efficient.

A challenge facing community clubs

Community sports clubs are an important part of our community and identity. They are typically run by volunteers who take time out of their own lives to give back to their chosen sport and community. For these volunteers, the management of club revenue and expenses is an ongoing challenge. One of the most significant ongoing costs for clubs are utility bills, specifically electricity and water.

Another key challenge for clubs is the loss of acquired knowledge on club operations due to volunteer attrition. This knowledge loss issue is particularly problematic for sports field management where volunteers, with  varied levels of understanding or training, are responsible for decisions on the watering and general upkeep of playing surfaces.

A technological solution

In 2022 and 2023, Brisbane Sustainability Agency spent six months collaborating with AFL Queensland, Cricket Queensland, Rugby League Queensland and Cricket Queensland to trial the use of Internet-of-Things (IOT) soil moisture sensors at six sporting club locations within Brisbane. While this technology is commonly used in agriculture and golf course curation, it has potential to result in more efficient use of resources and better field quality when applied in sports field management. This can help retain and transfer knowledge between volunteers, improve soil health and reduce water and energy consumption.

The process

The team kicked off the project by conducting irrigation system audits and soil testing on each field to gather a clear understanding of:

  • Soil history
  • Condition of the irrigation system
  • The state of the irrigation controller and other existing devices
  • Soil root depth, and
  • Soil type.

The irrigation audits and soil testing determined the installation depth and location of IoT soil moisture sensors, as well as the ideal soil moisture content for each field according to soil type. Sensors were installed at approximately 80% of the root depth, and placed in areas of the field where there were differences in soil composition, soil compaction, drainage, and/or field usage.

Additional IoT devices were installed at each club, including a weather station and irrigation flow sensors, to equip club-decision makers with as much useful information and insights as possible.

The data collected by the IoT devices was brought together into a simple, legible, online dashboard application, providing field specific insights into:

  • Current soil moisture levels
  • Recent irrigation activities
  • Recommended irrigation requirements
  • Turf water consumption
  • Current weather conditions
  • Forecast weather conditions, and
  • Energy consumption.

Turf is a resilient crop which can survive with limited soil moisture for long periods of time, essentially by going dormant as opposed to permanently wilting. While this attribute is valuable during times of drought, sports field turf is best kept above wilting point as excessively dry soil contributes to poor turf health, which can pose higher risk of injuries to players due to the hard surface.

Having access to an online dashboard for each field will help participating clubs keep their soil at the optimal moisture level based on their own budget, water availability, field health, and playing requirements. The prototype trial phase of the project commenced in January 2023. Brisbane Sustainability Agency will be monitoring and assessing the trial over a twelve-month period. Subject to the findings at the end of the trial, there may be the opportunity to extend the IoT and dashboard field management outcome to support other clubs within Brisbane.

Current project learnings

  • Sports fields across a city can have highly variable soil types and compositions between fields, and within a single field.
  • New technologies require training, which can be challenging in volunteer-led clubs with high turnover, and end user interfaces need to be very simple, and the input data required to generate insights needs to be automated (via IoT).
  • Soil moisture sensors provide precise, localised data. While this is extremely useful in precision agriculture, openly available evapotranspiration data may be sufficient to estimate irrigation water requirements in sports clubs. This trial will monitor how soil moisture sensor data is used over twelve months to assess whether this level of precision is valuable for the participating clubs.

This project was partly funded by the Queensland Government Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport as part of its ActiveKIT grant program.

The consultant team working with Brisbane Sustainability Agency on this project included Yurika (part of Energy Queensland) and Andres Jaramillo Consulting.

Further information on the outcome of the trial will be released at the conclusion of the trial in mid-2024 via the Sports Technology Hub Program webpage.

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