Smart Irrigation Month/Smart technologies

The future of smarter irrigation management is here

By Brian Magnusson

Great strides have been made over the past 50 years toward improving irrigation efficiency. It began with the shift from flood to more efficient forms of irrigation, such as center pivots, during the 1950s and 1960s. Over the following decades, numerous improvements were made upon that design, including more uniform and efficient sprinkler packages, more efficient and reliable drive systems and the shift toward lower pressure systems. In the 1990s, computer-based pivot control panels became commonplace, allowing growers to run more advanced and efficient water application plans.

Then in the 2000s, the spread of cellular networks and internet availability throughout rural America, combined with advancements in cloud computing, made adding remote monitoring and control to existing center pivots a simple, cost- effective retrofit. This enabled mass adoption of that technology and unlocked the efficiency gains that come with remote irrigation management.

Now, in the late 2010s, significant advancements in other technologies, such as the availability of hyper-accurate field-level weather data and the ability to cost-effectively store and process massive amounts of data for a single field, have come together to enable the next major advancement in efficient irrigation and water management — smart irrigation management decision support solutions.

Smart irrigation management decision support solutions

Based on the latest USDA Census of Agriculture data, fewer than 15 percent of growers use some form of science- or data-based method to determine when to irrigate their crops. The primary reason the vast majority of growers have not yet adopted this best practice is because it historically required the grower to either compile a large amount of data and perform many complex calculations or install and maintain expensive equipment in their fields.

This new generation of smart irrigation management decision support solutions changes that and makes the utilization of proven irrigation scheduling methods simple for all growers. By completely automating the collection and processing of the necessary data and integrating it into an existing remote monitoring and control platform, growers utilizing these solutions are provided with science- and data-based irrigation recommendations based on proven irrigation scheduling methods.

This technology helps growers make better-informed decisions on when to irrigate and how much water to apply. Further, the leading technologies are capable of generating continuously updated variable rate irrigation plans that account for soil variability, as well as the dynamically changing weather, crop development and as- applied irrigation across the field. This advancement finally unlocks the full potential value of variable rate application in irrigation and delivers significant gains in both water application efficiency and yield potential.

Science + data + technology = better informed irrigation management

Knowing that growers are notoriously and rightly skeptical of new technologies, given that many growers have been burned by lofty and unwarranted claims of yield gains and/or input reductions by many technologies of the past, this new generation of smart irrigation management decision support solutions is based on proven irrigation scheduling methods that are backed by decades of research and field trials. They incorporate highly accurate field- level data from reliable third-party sources and combine it with the grower’s existing field data that has typically been underutilized up until now to generate highly accurate and reliable irrigation recommendations.

Proven real-world results Photo credit: Lindsay Corporation 26 Irrigation TOtion TODAY | July 201 July 2017

While the benefits of using irrigation scheduling methods have been proven time and time again over the years, the reliability and results from these new smart irrigation management decision

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