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Water Management at the Forefront

08:24AM Jan 03, 2015

New technology boosts irrigation accuracy and control

As irrigation systems crawl across farmland in 2015, farmers will be looking to technology to control and release water in the exact amount and at the exact time a crop needs it. In the mean time, irrigation companies are focusing on new technologies to avoid underwatering or overwatering a crop—the efficiency errors that grind against the bushels-per-acre bottom line.

Drought underscores the need for efficient water use. Producers should be asking questions about irrigation technology and efficiency, says Dirk Lenie, vice president of global marketing, Lindsay Corporation. 

“There’s going to be a greater need to use water more wisely in the future, and that’s why controls and sensors are really catching on with growers,” he adds. “Remote control technology will only get bigger as producers find ways to reduce labor and save time.”

For 2015, irrigation manufacturers will focus on water efficiency, optimization and managing equipment.

Lindsay has a new magnetic flow meter—Growsmart IM3000. Tested by an independent third party, the Center for Irrigation Technology, in Fresno, Calif., it lets growers monitor the amount of water used with high accuracy. Growsmart IM3000 comes in sizes from 4" to 12" and can be used with Lindsay pivots or pump stations. 

Lindsay’s FieldNet, formerly for pivots, sensors and pumps, is now available for drip and microirrigation systems. From one central control system—all in the Cloud—using a tablet or smartphone, a grower can control pivots and drip systems, even flushing, chemigation and sensors.  

Variable-rate irrigation (VRI) continues to gain steam, Lenie says. “A VRI system allows a grower to control banks of sprinklers or individual sprinklers,” he explains. “VRI lets you save water and not put water where it isn’t needed. It lets you save money when fertigating by turning off sprinklers over areas where nothing is growing.”

Optimization will be a key part of precision agriculture. “I want farmers to ask us how they can get more out of their field by putting on less—optimizing the ratio of output over input,” says Steve Bateman, director of engineering, Reinke. 

Modern-day irrigation is about water management, which extends to resource management, Bateman says. “Our primary resource is water, but that goes along with energy. For every gallon we pump, we’re using energy,” he adds. “Controlling resources is of primary importance. How do we get the most output for growers?”

Bateman believes within three years, VRI will be a given. “VRI allows you to put the right amount of water in the right place at the right time, depending on actual conditions happening in the field in real-time,” he says.

Soil moisture monitoring is becoming standard, but Bateman says the industry needs even more information to help growers cope with static versus dynamic factors in the field. It’s becoming cheaper to put sensors in fields and send data to the Cloud. 

“That’s a great first step, but the loop must be closed by using the data to make decisions and control irrigation machines,” Bateman says. “It’s useless having one $3,000 sensor for one field. What we need is hundreds of $1 sensors all over a field.” 

Farmers dealing with water allocation issues might investigate if a precision mobile drip irrigation (PMDI) system would help. T-L Irrigation marketing manager Ryan Weber says PMDI systems precisely deliver low amounts of water to the crop as efficiently as possible. 

PMDI was developed 10 years ago but didn’t catch much attention because water allocation issues hadn’t reached an alarm point. Re-released by T-L Irrigation in 2014, PMDI uses drip tape on a pivot, offering the efficiency of a subsurface drip system with the low cost of a pivot system. 

“PMDI drags behind the pivot through the rows—30" spacing or 60" spacing—and utilizes 1-gal.-per-hour emitters. There is no evaporation, and efficiency is close to 98%,” Weber says. “On a hot day, you can walk up behind the drip tape and the ground will be dry, but you’ll sink through the topsoil into the wet ground below. It’s highly efficient but has a low cost.”

T-L Irrigation is teaming with AgSense to offer Precision Link to give growers full control of water applications via mobile access. 

In addition, T-L Irrigation is offering the GPS corner system. “In the past, we’ve buried a wire, and a sensor below the machine follows the wire,” Weber says. “With the need for this technology, we’ve come out with a GPS guidance corner, where it follows GPS coordinates around a field to swing the corner arm out and back in. The accuracy of the corner going around is sub-inch, erasing concerns about the wheel track widening or the corner machine getting off the path.

New technology will continue to improve equipment management. 

For 2015, Valley Irrigation, is focusing on technology that makes it easier for growers to manage equipment, says John Campbell, Valley Irrigation’s advanced technology product manager. 

“The fewer times a grower has to go into a field, the more it boosts his bottom line. In a perfect agriculture world, a grower would never have to go into his field—thus saving on overhead and gaining efficiency.” Campbell says. 

Going forward from 2015, conservation technologies that increase production and efficiency—VRI and remote control monitoring—are going to become increasingly needed as water becomes scarce. 

Valley’s biggest release in 2014 was BaseStation3—a server-based remote control monitoring product for irrigation compatible with iOS and Android apps. The functions of a control panel are used remotely with BaseStation3. A BaseStation3 video camera option is coming in 2015. 

“It’s getting a lot more attention and feedback than I was expecting,” Campbell adds. “The camera literally allows growers to see what’s going on. It can be installed facing out from the center point, facing in from the last span, or it can be mounted in some other place in the field. Some growers have used the camera to monitor endguns, sprinklers, crops and wire theft.”

Valley will have several new products for 2015, from new panel technology to variable-rate sprinkler control. “Technology is going to continuously become a bigger part of irrigation and agriculture,” Campbell says.