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3 Ways Technology is Impacting Irrigation

3 Ways Technology is Impacting Irrigation

16 Mar 2021

Rarely is the term, “micromanagement” met with positive connotation. No employee wants to be micromanaged. Most supervisors don’t want to be micromanagers. Even outside of the business world, micromanagement of the home and family generally aren’t met with warm reception.

Yet, in the world of agriculture and, particularly, irrigation, micromanagement can take on a whole new meaning. And a good one, too.

Agriculture technology is enabling farmers to be more in control of what’s happening in their fields and with their equipment. Variable rate seeding allows precise efforts based on soil variability. Newer sprayers feature individual nozzle control to get the precise drop size and amount per crop or location in a field. The data provided by UAV technology is giving farmers the opportunity to spot potential problems while they’re still minor enough to fix.

In a sense, agriculture technology is encouraging farmers to be micromanagers.

With water conservation efforts and more farmers realizing the power good irrigation practices have on their yields, it’s not surprising precision irrigation is one area being greatly impacted by agriculture, and seeing the benefits of micromanagement.

Flash Back and Fast-Forward
Irrigation methods and technology have made great strides since the irrigation windmills of the early 1900s. From early canvas hoses to modern-day micro-sprinklers, both the methods in which water is applied as well as the irrigation infrastructure itself have evolved.

One of the most significant advancements to irrigation methods has been center pivot systems and technology. Combining turbine pumps, pipes, and sprinklers that were more readily available after World War II, Frank Zybach built the earliest design of a center pivot system. Partnering with Robert Daugherty, Jr. the product has evolved into modern-day systems that are often seen in fields throughout the country, irrigating every type of crop from corn to potatoes.

But the story doesn’t end there. Just as precision agriculture opportunities continue to shape the ways farmers plant, harvest, and even scout their fields, technology is impacting the ways center pivot irrigation systems enable farmers to conserve water, operate more efficiently, and better irrigate crops for better yields.

Variable Rate Irrigation
Topography, soil data, adjacent waterways, crop type, and other factors make every field unique, thus, making the argument that every field should be irrigated to its individualized needs. Enter variable rate irrigation (VRI).

First invented to eliminate water overuse that’s both bad for crops and wasteful, VRI allows farmers to customize water application per field based on numerous factors, defined by the farmer, entered into the system as a VRI Prescription. VRI can get so accurate, water application can be varied and controlled down to each square foot.

In general terms, VRI can be applied to most types of irrigation systems, including micro-sprinklers, drip, and subsurface drip irrigation. In center pivot technology, VRI works by combining hardware and software, along with customized preferences per each grower, to apply water only where it’s needed and only the exact amount needed.

In addition to the biggest benefit of VRI, water conservation, the practice precision water application has been proven to result in better yields. Furthermore, growers can save time, labor, and costs attributed to fuel, chemical, and fertilizer by employing a VRI strategy.

As VRI continues to evolve, some manufacturers are making systems interchangeable with other brands. Valley Irrigation, for example, offers a VRI system that’s interchangeable with most top, competitive brands, opening up the opportunity to farmers who operate different types of systems.

GPS Guidance
Nearly every professional industry, from construction to surveying, is taking advantage of GPS technology to work more economically, efficiently, and effectively. The agriculture industry is no exception, with GPS already incorporated on most pieces of farm equipment. The technology also lends itself well to irrigation.

GPS solutions are being used for positioning on center pivots and linears, and guidance on corners and linears. The positioning capabilities accurately pinpoint the position of a center pivot or linear for further accuracy of precision irrigation, as well as fertilizer and crop inputs. GPS guidance on corners and linears uses satellite-based RTK to steer a machine along a programmed path, again, enhancing precision with both water and crop inputs. The technology can be used on end-guns to precisely reach ends of corners, and virtually eliminate water waste.

Furthermore, guidance also lets farmers install corner and linear irrigation equipment in difficult areas or those typically too expensive. In the past, corner and linear guidance followed wire buried underground. Not only was this susceptible to rodents, a lightning strike could cause significant damage.

Site-Specific Management
Going hand-in-hand with the opportunities of VRI systems and GPS, technology has greatly impacted the ways in which irrigation systems are managed.

Original control panels were developed in the early 90s to work in conjunction with VRI systems. They allow a farmer to set the rate of application and adjust at any time from anywhere, without having to go into the field.

Modern control panels now enable variable rates across the same field; for example, one half receiving ½ inch of water, while the other half receives a full inch. They can also be programmed to auto-adjust the system based on temperature, set to allow the pivot to travel a specified number of degrees in a designated time period, and programmed months in advance, all directly from the panel or even a Smartphone.

Not just applicable to VRI, virtually every system on the farm, including pumps and sensors, can be monitored and managed through any device, from a Smartphone to a tablet to a desktop computer. Best of all, these systems record and store all the data they collect for future use and decision-making.

As for what can be managed, the possibilities are virtually endless. Programs are available to provide crop monitoring and measurement of soil moisture content. Others enable control of a pivot’s starting, stopping, direction, and speed. Some can be paired with weather sensors or other programs to further enhance their capabilities and precision. And many of them track real-time info and send alerts to the device, letting a farmer know if something should be looked into.

Bringing It All Together
Site-specific management tools build on the key benefits of efficiency and various savings that are hallmarks of VRI and GPS technology. Working together, these technology advancements are helping farmers be more in control of their equipment and fields, and realize all the benefits to a maximized degree.

When considering the advantages of VRI, GPS, site-specific management, and irrigation technology as a whole, it’s easy to see how micromanagement is actually a good thing.


About The Author
Bobby Kempenich is Division Manager of MVI and based in Wadena, MN.

Visit for more information on irrigation technology and center pivot systems. 


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