Talk of the town–What’s New in Irrigation Equipment Spud Smart Winter 2011

Talk of the town–What’s New in Irrigation Equipment?

Grabbing attention in 2011 are practical—and now affordable—hi-tech tools helping producers maximize their yields through efficiency and precision.

WHEN IT COMES to irrigation equipment, increasing competition for water resources is making efficiency an essential component, says the industry development director of the Irrigation Association, a leading membership organization for irrigation companies and professionals.

“Manufacturers are very aggressive in adapting technology to help manage water resources and improve overall efficiency because the real challenge is to produce more food with minimal inputs,” says Brent Mecham of the Irrigation Association.

One way growers are managing water resources is through variable rate irrigation, he says. “Variable rate irrigation helps a farmer understand the various places in his field and how much water each area needs compared to another area,” he says.

Also receiving much attention, according to Mecham, is soil moisture sensors. “These can be put within the root zone to monitor the moisture so you know when the next irrigation needs to occur and how much needs to be applied,” he says.

“So now we’re able to get feedback on what the plant is seeing and experiencing. This is helping the farmer become more precise because he’s able to get more information to make a good decision.”

This technology has been used by researchers for a while, but only now is it becoming more practical and affordable for growers to use, he notes.

VRI Controls

New technology recently released by Valley Irrigation, a division of Valmont Industries Inc., offers the industry’s first line of VRI controls integrated directly into existing irrigation controls, says Craig Malsam, vice-president of marketing and engineering for Valmont, located in Valley, Neb.

Valley VRI, the latest product for precise water application from Valmont, offers two different levels of VRI control—VRI Zone Control and VRI Speed Control. A user-friendly computer program, offered with both methods of control, allows the operator to use soil texture, topography and various maps to develop irrigation prescriptions.

“You can program the irrigation to be specific to the crop and agronomy situation,” says Malsam. “And you’re putting the water precisely where it needs to be.”

In an effort to ensure the driest part of the field has enough water, farmers often end up over-irrigating other areas of the field, resulting in yield loss, says Malsam. “So this technology minimizes overwatering and maximizes yields across the entire field,” he says. And if a farmer is dealing with deficit irrigation, he adds, variable rate allows him to balance water use by only using what is needed in the proper parts of the field.

Another new product from Valmont, the Bender30, increases the number of acres a grower can irrigate at lower cost. With the ability to bend any drive unit up to 30 degrees, a grower can easily wrap a tree line, feed lot or avoid obstacles in the field, allowing for maximum irrigated acres, says Sara Sims, marketing communications manager with Valmont.

Mobile Apps

Feature_Talk-of-the-Town-2Another company providing farmers with cutting edge technology has devised a control system farmers can monitor from their smartphones. A few years ago, Lindsay Corporation introduced FieldNET, a wireless irrigation control system that allows farmers to control and monitor their systems through the Internet. Recently, the company introduced FieldNET Mobile, an application for smartphones.

“It has essentially taken the power of FieldNET and combined it with the convenience of a smartphone,” says Reece Andrews, GrowSmart product manager for Lindsay in Omaha, Neb. “So instead of having to use a computer to monitor and control their systems, growers can do it through a smartphone.”

The major benefit to growers is they can be saved from making up to 75 per cent of their trips to the field, he says. FieldNET Mobile helps farmers use water more efficiently by allowing them to pull out their phones and shut off their irrigation systems during a rainstorm, rather than having to drive out to the field, says Andrews.

Lindsay, makers of Zimmatic, Greenfield, Stettyn and Perrot irrigation systems, also recently launched FieldNET with pump control, which provides farmers with the ability to manage, monitor and control pumps as well as the pivot system. “If you can integrate pumps with pivots you can save water and energy,” says Andrews.

Typically, multiple pivots are controlled by one pump station. These pumps are set up to output at a particular pressure set point, says Andrews. “With our technology, the pivots and the pumps are now online so you can set up unique pressure set points for all the pivots,” he says. “This allows you to bring down the energy costs associated with running a pump station.”

Flexible Three-Wheel Tower

Another innovation in irrigation equipment this year is a flexible three-wheel tower on a wider base, recently released by Reinke Manufacturing Company Inc.

“Because it flexes, it allows the tower to keep all three wheels on the ground at all times, regardless of the terrain. So as it’s going up and down hills, the base can flex and keep the weight equally distributed on each wheel,” says Paul Meyer, sales and marketing support manager with Reinke in Deshler, Neb.Feature_Talk-of-the-Town-1

Distributing the weight among three wheels rather than two also makes a lighter track, says Meyer, which alleviates deep tracks in the field. Also, Reinke uses high-strength steel, allowing the use of smaller diameter truss rods and other components while maintaining strength, says Meyer. “So by doing that, our systems are designed to be as strong, yet lighter, than our competition,” he says.

Each wheel also has drive power, providing additional traction. Meyer says this base is a good option for difficult terrain or soil types in which a standard two-wheel base might get bogged down.

Touch Screen Control Panel

Reinke, the first company to successfully integrate GPS technology for centre pivot controls, has also launched a new touch screen control panel for irrigation systems—the Reinke Precision Management Preferred (RPM) with Touch Technology, which runs on a Windows operating system. The panel can be located at the pivot point or remotely, says Meyer, and can control anything relating to the irrigation system.

“The combination of the RPM Preferred Touch Screen control panel and the GPS controls allows farmers to be very accurate and efficient with most any operation on their irrigation systems,” he says.

Both the flexible three-wheel tower and the RPM Preferred Touch Screen control panel were selected by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers as winners of the AE50 Awards for 2010, representing the best and brightest products developed around the globe for the agricultural, food and biological systems industries.

Teresa Falk