The 2012 drought that covered about 65 percent of the U.S. and which was a continuation of drought that began more than a year earlier in the Southwest has brought concern about water availability to the forefront more than ever before.
More companies than ever are putting together programs to assist farmers who irrigate and to help ag retailers assist their customers grow crops as efficiently as possible with as little water as possible. Continuous improvement in water delivery and efficient use in crop production is a necessity. Improvements can be economically viable for growers, and initial investments must be offset in the long run.
Syngenta has jumped into offering the Water+ Intelligent Irrigation Platform working in partnership with Lindsay Corporation to assist farmers. The concept and research for the platform program began three years ago, prior to the extreme drought. Working with a limited number of growers, the program is in limited launch in Kansas, Nebraska and portions of Colorado during 2013, explained Chris Tingle, Syngenta, business portfolio manager irrigated crops.
Syngenta knows the agronomics of growing a crop and is integrating crop knowledge with irrigation performance. The company is "pulling all the information streams into one simple platform" for the convenience of the grower and economical crop production recommendations, explained Tingle. While the best suited hybrids are selected for the Water+ platform, planting Agrisure Artesian water-optimization corn hybrids for growing more corn with less water is definitely a main consideration.
It is described as one-stop shopping for the tools to efficiently use water and grow a crop. "The grower can look at his computer screen in the morning and recognize that today he needs to irrigate or initiate the use of a crop protection product but then also plan for next week as the crop develops and the weather patterns change," Tingle said.
One of the technology components in the offer is FieldNET, the Lindsay remote control telemetry system for internet-based control and monitoring of a pivot. Second, two sets of soil moisture sensors are installed at different soil depths within the pivot area. Third, a specific rain gauge to measure rainfall with electronic readout is placed in the field. Then, those read-outs are connected to the Lindsay irrigation panel systems.
And the really important aspect that Syngenta provides is the new Ag software. "The Ag software program that we've developed and are further developing is really the essence of Water+ Intelligent Irrigation," Tingle said. This gives guidance to the farmer for production, irrigation and crop protection operations per field based on weather conditions.
"The final component of the Syngenta offering is two aerial images of the crop under the pivot," the Syngenta portfolio manager noted. A thermal image about two weeks after the first irrigation gives an aerial view of pivot function including nozzle malfunctions or improper calibration. Then about two weeks prior to harvest a color infrared imagery is taken for use in NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index-vegetation measurement) analysis for yield prediction, although yield estimates are tracked from data collected during the growing season, too.
The collection of data and decisions based on facts instead of speculation or guesses about crop needs and its water requirements is being spurred on by the need for water-use efficiency.
Advanced Ag Solutions, LLC has issued new software for irrigation management using algorithm models for its Optimizer 2.0 app. The company focuses on farmers and empowering crop advisors to better serve their clients.
The app utilizes weather forecasts and recorded radar results fine-tuned to individual field precipitation data along with soil moisture data to provide insight on when pivot irrigation should be rescheduled.
"The software then allows the user to easily edit irrigated rates and timing in cases where estimates of irrigation might be off," explained Daryl Starr, Advanced Ag Solutions president.
IRRIGATION COMPANY COMMENTS
All four of the Midwest pivot irrigation manufacturers offer remote control of their pivots and offer their own variable rate irrigation (VRI), each of which has its own unique features and benefits. Managers within each of the companies expressed how important various efficiencies have become.
Dirk Lenie, Lindsay vice-president of global marketing, emphasized water conservation aspects of FieldNET. "The system provides water use information per pivot and sends out an alert should a pivot have a problem. This is especially important if a pivot stops in the watering mode. The sooner it is shut down, the more the water savings."
Lindsay's Precision VRI does not work on a grid pattern, but it "allows growers to create more than 47,000 application areas to design a custom irrigation package unique to the specifics of a grower's field," Lenie explained.
Cole Fredrick, product manager for Valley Irrigation, explained the value of VRI in a nutshell. "We are able to put the water where it is most needed in the field. This allows the best possible use of the resource we have. VRI can result in water savings, crop uniformity, reduced runoff and potential yield increases for overall profitability. We can easily tie VRI into our remote management products, TrackNET and Base Station to more efficiently use the growers' valuable time."
Paul Meyer, sales and marketing support manager, Reinke Manufacturing Company, Inc., noted that his company's systems "provide precision application of water to various parts of the field by means of sector and zone VRI." What's important for VRI, Meyer explained, is the irrigation prescription written with "software capable of processing yield, soil and elevation geo-referenced data for the purpose of applying water where it is needed most."
Meyer added, "When water supplies are limited, VRI can be used to concentrate efforts at maximizing yield on the better soils and terrain within each field. During extended periods of drought, areas of the field normally requiring the most water now receives the least."
T-L Irrigation Marketing Director Ryan Weber said, "Managing rate and timing of irrigation is key in optimizing crop production. Increase in yields is the main concern, but improving energy and water use efficiency has become equally important."
As Weber mentioned, energy conservation has to be a consideration for farmers, along with water conservation. Lower costs for pumping water is something in which farmers are always interested, and that is why many farmers are open to changing from a diesel-powered irrigation pump to a propane-powered pump. The price for propane has decoupled to a degree from the price of gasoline and diesel fuel so that propane engine operation is economical enough to achieve payback for the cost of a new engine in one to two years for many producers, according to Mark Leitman, director of business development and marketing for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC).
Additionally, PERC has been offering a $400 incentive per liter of engine displacement, up to 10.3 liters, or a maximum $4,120, to farmers who qualify in buying a new propane-fueled irrigation engine from certain manufacturers. That incentive program is ending or ended for 2013 but is likely to repeat for 2014 purchases.
And finally, efficient water delivery products are not limited to pivot irrigation companies as noted by CertainTeed's announcement of the company's restrained-joints and PVC sled couplings, risers and mainline pipe-all of which produce a more efficient closed system for piped water delivery. The company is quick to note the ideal design of its system for row crop and turf grass use.
"Certa-Set's sled couplings provide a hydraulic pressure seal that eliminates leaky joints, conserves water and reduces the possibility of crop loss due to puddling," said Mark Brunni, product marketing manager for the CertainTeed Pipe & Foundations Group. He also claims, Certa-Set operates at 20 percent less friction than aluminum, lowering pumping costs, and has a distribution uniformity of 84 percent versus 70 percent for comparable aluminum systems."
In total, every company that has anything to do with irrigated-crop production is looking for ways to improve water-use efficiency by crops and water delivery systems.