Efficiency is the goal

Technology is making irrigation simpler and more profitable


Irrigation has always demanded answers to the same questions: “When?”, “Where?” and “How much?” In previous times, approximate answers were good enough. Now, however, precision and rigour are required if farmers are to keep farming. Fortunately, digital technology has made irrigation management both a much simpler and a much more accurate proposition.

“Some farmers copy what their neighbours are doing and others what their fathers were doing, and their fathers’ fathers before them,” says Frederik Nel, Commercial Manager: RSA and Namibia at Lindsay Africa. “Few apply technology to irrigation management, but this is changing and can be seen in the hundreds of FieldNet units (Irrigation Management Software for pivots) installed on pivots annually, just for our brand, during the last years.”

Smart water management

Digital technology is revolutionizing the how farmers are growing cash crops like maize, soybeans, alfalfa, cotton, and many more. It’s all about getting the soil water balance right to avoid not only underwatering—which can lead to yield-reducing water stress—but overwatering too. As Nel points out, “Farmers don’t always realise that over irrigating is as bad as under irrigation. Run-off and deep percolation wastes water, nutrients and energy and can hurt yields and reduce profitability.”

Good irrigation management is therefore key to providing the right amount of water at the right time. Thanks to technologies such as FieldNET Advisor, it is now possible not only to track the available water throughout the field but also to schedule irrigation to replenish water levels before the yield-reducing stress point is reached while avoiding overwatering.

“FieldNET is a single integrated platform that can monitor and control practically any pivot regardless of age or brand throughout the field, sending real-time status alerts that are accessible around the clock,” says Nel. “This enables farmers to make irrigation management decisions in an automated and simplified way. A field-specific, hyper-accurate weather forecast is used to predict the crop’s future water needs in order to alert the farmer to schedule irrigation before any part of a given field becomes stressed.”

To simplify matters, the system automatically generates Variable Rate Irrigation prescriptions that are dynamically optimized every day according to the specific crop and soil requirements of the area under irrigation. “No longer is it necessary make complex calculations or juggle multiple tools, and it takes out the guess-work,” says Nel.

Variable Rate Irrigation

Many farmers will apply a single depth of irrigation across an entire field and even across different crops, without taking into account obstacles, variable soil types and variable terrain, with the inevitable result of over or underwatering. With Variable Rate Irrigation, however, it is possible to get the right amount of irrigation at every point in the field simply by pointing and clicking with a mouse. Site-specific agronomic data readings form the basis of a customized irrigation plan entered into the Precision VRI controller and relayed wirelessly to the pivots. This level of precision results in savings of 15-20% on water, pumping, and input costs. Plans can be saved and reused throughout the year.

“At the end of the day, whatever form of irrigation you have, the goal is to make that as efficient as possible,” says Lindsay Africa Commercial Director Alan Edwards. “Our technologies are helping to drive that. If we want to carry on farming, we’re going to have to realise that the water is not going to be just as freely available as before.”

Edwards agrees that climate change is also driving the demand for precision irrigation. “I used to work on a project up in Mozambique before joining Lindsay,” he shares. “It was an old estate that was set up by the Portuguese and the British over a 100 years ago when, and the whole place used to be rain-fed, without a drop of irrigation. Now everything is irrigated, otherwise it’s just not worth planting.”

Clearly, technology is going to play an increasingly important role in cutting down on waste. “If you don’t have a system like VRI, you’re going to be irrigating for the worst-case scenario,” says Edwards. “Take a field with sandy soils and clay soils—you know you need to apply the water on the sandy soils but it means you’re probably running off on the clay soils because they can’t absorb the water. What VRI does is adapt the irrigation application quick enough along the pivot itself so you control each and every sprinkler, mapping into where the soil changes or if you’ve got roads or streams or other areas that you don’t want to put the water onto.”

The ultimate platform

FieldNet, VRI, FieldNet Advisor, Corners—just how many platforms does a farmer need? What if a farmer has more than one brand of centre pivots or more than one type of irrigation system?

“That is the beauty of FieldNet,” says Nel. “All of the Lindsay technology are all manufactured in house and can be operated by the FieldNet Platform and App. That means all of the technology (FN, VRI, FN Advisor etc.) is on one platform and it doesn’t matter what brand of pivot. The competition still need to get all of their technology on to one platform. We can put FieldNet on any brand of pivot. FieldNet can also be installed on other types of irrigation systems,” he concludes.

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Issue 46


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