Back in the ‘80’s, Netafim was the first company to introduce drip irrigation to the world. Today, it’s the world’s largest irrigation company, irrigating more acreage than any other company.
But more than just drip irrigation, Netafim has expanded to provide comprehensive solution packages, from products like drip line to drip tape, sprinklers to emitters, and values to filters.
Joining host Tony Kramer on Episode 110 is Roy Levenson, who is the commercial lead of digital farming with Netafim. He’s sharing insight on NetBeat, Netafim’s new tool that allows the modular, flexible, scalable automation of irrigation and fertilizer injection.
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Catch this episode’s complete transcript here:
Tony: I'm excited to welcome Roy Levenson, who is the commercial lead of digital farming with Netafim, thanks for joining me on the show today, Roy. To get started, let's hear a little bit more about you and your background and how you got involved in this industry.
Roy: Well, Tony, thank you very much for having me. It's a pleasure to have this conversation with you today. I have been with Netafim for just a short period of time. I've joined the company as the commercial lead as you shared. Basically, the commercial lead is responsible for the commercial launch of the new platform product called the NetBeat, which is going to help Netafim really revolutionize the digital farming world when it comes to irrigation. We're very excited to be able to do that. Prior to Netafim, I was with another Israeli company in the space of automation. I've been, with the world of irrigation and automation for more than a decade and excited, to have this conversation with you today.
Tony: Wonderful. Like you said, you've been in irrigation and agriculture technology for a while. It's great to sit down and talk with someone of your level of knowledge and experience. To start out, let's just talk about Netafim. What is Netafim?
Roy: Well, that's a great question. I'm excited actually to share, few people know that Netafim actually means calictite. It's a wonderful natural phenomenon. It's actually the way Netafim was founded, it was created by accident. One day there was an observation that plants grow more effectively and efficiently when there is a precise delivery of water. Based on a leak in a hose and basically, drip irrigation was invented. Netafim back in the 80s was the first company to introduce drip irrigation to the world. Today, it's the world's largest irrigation company with annual revenues that reach $1.2 billion around the world.
We irrigate more acreage than anybody else and truly a world leader. I'm actually here with Netafim USA, which is the local subsidiary. It's a company that's been serving North American since the early 80s and excited to be part of this effort.
Tony: That is really cool. I had no idea that it all started with a leaky hose and grew from there and turned into drip irrigation. Along with drip irrigation, of course, Netafim offers so many more products and services and whatnot out there. Why don't you just give us a brief overview on what Netafim does in a whole?
Roy: Netafim offers a comprehensive solution package that has everything to do with drip irrigation. From a drip line to drip tape from sprinklers to emitters, from valves to filters.
As well as to the automation world where we have precision equipment that helps with that creating a very, very effective delivery of water.
Tony: It's really neat to hear, me coming from where I'm from the upper Midwest. We have irrigation there, but there's so much more to it when you get into specialty crop markets and other areas of the world in the United States. To hear a company like Netafim have all of these solutions and everything that you guys have to offer, it's really neat to hear within the irrigation industry. Going into now where your wheelhouse is and the digital side of things. Let's talk about NetBeat. What is NetBeat and what is it going to do to the irrigation industry?
Roy: NetBeat is a system that allows us to automate the function of irrigation and fertilizer injection. Basically, when the system is fully implemented, it's going to provide us with the ability to have autonomous irrigation control. The way that we deliver this is, by being able to, number one, introduce a variety of sensors, sensors of all types, all sizes and all shapes and forms. Whether it's water meters to be able to track water usage. Whether it's fertilizer meters, to be able to track how much fertilizer we’re injecting into the system. Whether it's soil moisture sensors, whether it's weather stations.
If we're using specific crop sensors, for instance, we can use STEM water, potential sensors. We integrate all these sensors into a platform which is driven by artificial intelligence and we're able to create specific crop models. As a matter of fact, we've already created more than 19 crop models, that have actually been validated. In validation, they were proven to be very effective as compared to traditional practices. We're able to take all these pieces of equipment and technology and create an engine that allows us to be able to drive autonomous irrigation control.
One of the nice things about NetBeat is the fact that, although autonomous irrigation control is the vision and the plan, we don't require customers to use autonomous irrigation control. If somebody wants to use NetBeat only for the purposes of automating valve or automating a pump function, NetBeat is scalable. We can operate a very small farmyard organization, or we can operate a very complex farming operation. There's really no limitation to the capacity of NetBeat. It is completely modular, flexible, scalable.
Tony: You talked about all the different sensors that you're utilizing. Is this something that has to be installed from the start of an irrigation system or are you able to retrofit on essentially any system that's out there?
Roy: It's a combination. You can actually install brand new systems. If it's part of a new expansion project or if it's a brand-new farming operation, we could start it from the ground up. We can help with the grower actually have A to Z solution when it comes to irrigation and fertilizer injection. However, if the customer already is utilizing sensors, if they're already deployed soil moisture sensors on their property, there's absolutely no reason why they cannot use those sensors to connect over to the NetBeat platform. Basically, we've categorized NetBeat as an agnostic sensor integration.
We don't care who manufacturers the sensors. While we do have a complete line of sensors which are available that have been certified and are ready to use with NetBeat. We're wide open to be able to integrate with other sensor manufacturers across the globe.
Tony: That obviously makes it a lot easier for people to get into a system like NetBeat to be able to utilize sensors that are already out there or get right on board with a Netafim system. The whole picture of automated irrigation, where are the benefits in this?
Roy: There is actually a tremendous amount of benefits. The ones that jump up in front of the list, which we often cite is, number one is the ability to be able to be precise. We actually at Netafim we like to use the concept of, we want to allow people to grow more with less. Autonomous enables you to be able to grow more with less. We're able to help customers to be very precise with the application of water as well as the application of fertilizer. In addition to that, we provide labor savings. We don't eliminate the need to have boots on the ground. We don't take away the requirement to have somebody, have physical presence to be able to verify that things are repaired or attended to.
What we do is, we allow us to be able to move more efficient and effective and how is in we apply water. For instance, instead of having an irrigator, jump into the pickup truck, drive for 10 miles just to be able to turn on a pump. Then the two we'll open a gate valve. What enables us to do is, to be able to connect a controller to that pump to automate the valve and to be able to do it remotely from the convenience of anywhere at any time. NetBeat is a cloud-based architecture that allows us to be able to operate it from a browser. It allows us to operate from a tablet. Allows us to talk about it from a smartphone.
We like to joke about the idea that theoretically if a farmer was able or ever allowed to take a vacation when they are on vacation, there'll be able to sit on the sand with their toes in the sand, umbrella drink in their hand. Their phone in their right pocket, take it out and manage the irrigation while they're away. Maybe one of these days we'll actually be able to enable a farmer to take a vacation.
Tony: We talk about automation a lot of times across the ag industry. We have automation in our tractors and we have automation in the iron and the equipment. Now to bring in automation into irrigation I think is a very important piece of the puzzle that it really sounds like what you guys are coming to the table with, with NetBeat.
Roy: We absolutely are. Not only do we enable automation, it's the fact that we're able to integrate the sensors and integrate the technology, to be able to provide some decision assistance. If somebody is willing to actually to be able to provide the autonomous irrigation because our crop models, again, have been proven to be effective to where we are able to meet or exceed traditional practices. Automation, by the way, is not always about increasing yield and being a little bit more effective on how we grow. Sometimes, we are not looking to increase yield because that does not necessarily translate to increase in profitability. Automation allows us to potentially substantially reduce the amount of fertilizer that's being used in the application which potentially will also allow a farmer to reduce his overall cost of operation. There is also the fact that sometimes a grower may not necessarily want to increase yield everywhere but they may want to create a more uniform yield, so that way every block is delivering the same results because that provides for them some predictability.
Tony: When we talk autonomy, or any sort of an autonomous process in agriculture, a lot of times people fear the loss of control. With NetBeat, I would imagine the farmer still has that control of the system. It's not 100% autonomous unless maybe they want it to be. How does that work as far the farmer having control but yet also letting the autonomy to do what it needs to do?
Roy: That has actually been one of the challenges of automation period is the saying that John senior knew how to turn on the water all these years. What has John junior need to do any different because that's what pops did? Well, we have a similar situation here. We want to enable the customer to make a decision. We want to enable the farmer to make the decision of how much he wants to take advantage of the tools which he or she has available to them. If the farmer is not ready to be able to take on autonomous irrigation, that's fine we can start with basics.
We actually have some customers that all they do is turn on a pump remotely. We have customers that allow us to both turn on the pump remotely as well as turn on the valve. We have customers that allow us to then add on filter flushing. We then have customers that once they've done those three steps, they take on fertilizer control. Then we start integrating sensors. It is a modular system. There is no requirement to start at the very, very end of the package taking advantage of all the bells and whistles. We certainly think that our bells and whistles are very, very attractive.
Our blue jewels and crystals are prettier than everybody else's, however, at the same time, it is all about what the farmer wants to do with his own system. The farmer owns the application. The farmer owns the operation. It's not us.
Tony: That's really great to hear that there's a number of different levels of applications to the NetBeat system. As you alluded to, you don't have to go all the way to the top right away, you can start simply. You can start basic and become comfortable with the system or become comfortable with autonomous irrigation. That really opens the door for more opportunities for growers of all different levels.
Roy: Correct. We partner with our dealer partners. For instance, we've done a lot of business with RDO Water and as a matter of fact, when we were working with RDO Water we'd hold our hands. We hold our hands with the farmers. We make sure that when a system is installed in the ground that it's operating correctly. We make sure that we provide the training that is necessary for somebody to be successful with the application and at the end of the day to be able to enjoy the results of investing in the product.
Tony: Roy with your time and that of farming, everything you've done within the irrigation industry and the technology you're in, there's got to be some success story out there that you could share with our listeners.
Roy: One of my success stories is a field manager that for many, many years was sending his staff over to the field and just for the simple purposes of manually watering. As soon as we implemented technology and implemented automation, suddenly, we helped him realize the fact that," Hey, instead of spending literally 40 hours a week driving into truck just to try out a pump he was able to do it from the phone." The returning investment for this particular customer and he had seven pumps that he was automating and these pumps were about 30 miles away from where he lived and the cost savings alone with automation paid for the system within a matter of three months. That is success.
Tony: I agree that is a very large part of success. The simple wins there. If someone wants to learn more about Netafim or the NetBeat system where can they go and who can they talk to?
Roy: The first place where I would go is, I would contact my RDO sales rep because they have a lot of information available for you. You can also go online and visit netafimusa.com, where there is a library of information and knowledge and videos and tutorials and test specifications and literature that's available for you on-demand 24/7.
Tony: Great. I just want to thank you, Roy, for taking the time to sit down with me and talk about Netafim and learn a little bit more about NetBeat. You guys definitely have a great product that's out there. I look forward to watching the automation of irrigation grow in the industry. Thanks again for doing this.
Roy: Well, Tony it's been my pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity. We truly appreciate the partnership with RDO we look forward to many years together.