Technology has swooped in again, making life easier for irrigators by helping them plan when and where to add water, and determining how much to apply.
An example of the latest in irrigation scheduling is FieldNET Advisor by Lindsay, which limits the need to put boots in the mud.
Introduced in 2016, the Cloud-based irrigation scheduling tool is designed to reduce most of the time, hardware and leg work associated with managing crop irrigation.
FieldNET can amp up efficiency, developers said, during times of dwindling supplies of the precious natural resource necessary to making the Great Plains bloom and produce bounty for the world.
The systems promise to save money and conserve water.
FieldNET is a multi-faceted system, that alleviates more than one issue, said Farris Hightower, Lindsay regional sales manager. Hightower’s region includes southern Colorado and Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and western Arizona, where semi-arid to arid are common climates.
“One goal is getting water where it’s doing the crop good. All of the water and nutrients have to go through the root systems,” he said. “I believe in what we’re doing and irrigation scheduling is the new frontier that will absolutely save huge amounts of water and make a big difference in profitability at a producer level.”
The next goal is control technologies, Hightower said.
“In today’s world, efficient producers aren’t just going to monitor. They’re going to control it; put the water where it needs to be. Having control of irrigation rather than irrigation having control of you is really important.”
FieldNET provides irrigators convenience with less labor.
“You can do everything from a phone, iPad or computer, versus standing in front of a panel,” he said. “There is no reason to tear up equipment or battle the mud. You can do it from the house, or wherever you need to do it.”
Commands sent to the center pivot are “executed in seconds,” Hightower said. “If something happens in the field—the pressure goes off, pivots get stuck—an alarm is generated in seconds so the pivot doesn’t water in one spot.”
Computers do the work, and meanwhile, the producer knows where the water is going.
“You know exactly how much was applied and when. You can track your water usage,” he said. “That’s where the real savings is in water today—irrigation scheduling. You can save a couple inches of water across almost every irrigated acre.”
Those blessed with significant rains may be able to give their pivots a rest. They’ll even know when to turn the system back on.
“With today’s technology, you can tell when,” Hightower said. “It’s about keeping water available to the plants so they don’t stress.”
Banking on the right data—weather conditions, evapotranspiration rates and other factors, such as farming practices—no-till versus conventional till, for example—applying water when it’s needed, and at the right amounts, will improve yield potential and could save pumping costs and water.
Some water is lost through evaporation. The amount depends on the system.
“You’re going to lose a certain amount of water that lands on leaf surfaces, to wind drift,” he said. “Lindsay’s FieldNet Advisor models what the crop’s going to use and lose, and will (tell the pivot) to put on the right amount of water at the right time.”
Growth stage in crop development is another factor, Hightower said. Crop needs will be different, from say, knee-high corn to tasseling and putting on ears.
“You’ve got to match all of that up, or you should be trying to do that,” he said.
The key is knowing whether to continue watering near the end of the growing season, and how much to apply.
Water costs money, Hightower said.
“Why waste that water? Put that money in your pocket,” he said.
Say the cost is $10 an acre-inch with a center pivot circle without an end gun, at 122 acres alone, Hightower said.
Saving an inch of water saves $1,220 an inch at every pivot—$2,440 for 2 inches.
“You can see how this adds up,” he said.
A FieldNET Advisor subscription starts at $450 per year, minus discounts that may be offered, said Albert Maurin, a Lindsay software product manager in Omaha, “That’s about one-fourth the cost of a typical soil moisture probe site,” he wrote in an email.
FieldNET doesn’t require probes.
“Cloud-based irrigation scheduling” saves time scouting fields, and money, Maurin said. “We are using local accurate virtual weather data. You don’t have to have on-farm weather stations or your own soil maps. You combine weather and soil data with crop growth models to run a solid water balance.”
A soil moisture probe site with telemetry will range from $1,200 to $2,500, “plus yearly fees associated with installation, telemetry and scheduling services,” he added.
Moisture probes “aren’t economically viable. They don’t make financial sense in a producer’s world,” Hightower said. “The whole virtual world has changed so much in the last year and six months. We’re getting better, but to be able to use it, that data has to be accurate. It’s so important to the rest of this.”
Most growers using probes will install at least one on a field, Maurin said, “but to accurately capture variability in the field, you would need more than one probe, which would increase that investment.”
Using irrigation data models—weather data, evapotranspiration and more—the software suggests the schedule, based on smaller squares on a grid than a probe would provide.
“You grid a field down to 5-by-5 meter squares. With the irrigation rainfall, evapotranspiration rates, you can predict the crop’s water needs,” Hightower said. “We look at 15 days out, the entire season. The closer you get (with the grid) the more accurate you will be.”
On top of it all, he said, FieldNET is simple.
“Technology for a producer has to be easy to use. You can’t spend hours figuring out how much water needs to go on,” Hightower said. “You have to be able to do it in minutes.”
The output must be “actionable data,” he said, “and it has to be scalable. Whether a producer has one circle or 50, it has to be easy for them to put together and use it, and not take a lot of time to do it.”
FieldNET Advisor “creates a variable rate irrigation schedule for each field automatically every day,” Hightower added. “This is something that no one else has.”
Irrigators are also looking for equipment to be cost-effective.
“Some technologies out there will cost $2,000 per circle to install and maintain through the season,” he said. “If you’re trading two thousand to get two thousand, that’s not going to help, but if you spend $400 to get $2,400, you did something and it’s scalable.”
On top of that is cost-share for irrigation water management through the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, Hightower said.
“You get the power of FieldNET Advisor,” he said, and it can be used in your easy chair.
One goal for Lindsay is to “get guys to embrace control technology,” Hightower said. “Irrigation scheduling is an integral part of what they’re doing.”
He suggested a visit to the local Lindsay Zimmatic dealership to “help you get those technology products installed.”
Tim Unruh can be reached at email@example.com.