December 21, 2021
Spend any time around modern farm irrigation systems, and it's clear they're becoming more complicated. The Irrigation Show held recently in San Diego was as much about technology as water management. Companies and startups are seeing opportunity in helping users maximize the technology.
During the show, two companies were focused on offering irrigation management as a service. The first is a startup that took part in the show's Innovation Hub pitch competition. The second is an established irrigation firm leveraging an opportunity.
Both are working in the West, where high-value crops and increased water management create a greater need for farmers to leverage the water in use. However, these services could expand to other areas as technology is more complex, farmers face labor shortages and water issues continue. Consider it a preview of a potential national business model.
Startup as manager
Neil Schultz wants to help you manage water. Schultz is general manager of Altrac, a startup focused on taking on irrigation management for the farm. "We're offering irrigation autonomy as a service," he says. "Farmers are interested in the idea, but they don't know how to implement it."
The startup is just getting going, but Schultz says there are opportunities for this type of tighter management of these systems. Altrac is a division of Semios, and will be focused on this model of "management as a service."
Altrac offers tools to automate wind machines for frost prevention in high-value crops, and it offers management of pumping stations, valve systems, weather information and more. "We can manage those systems for a farm for a yearly fee," Schultz explains.
The company is leveraging the in-field service team for Semios, bringing nearly immediate "boots-on-the-ground" support for installation and management of a range of irrigation tasks on the farm. A centralized network operations facility would monitor systems; if work needs to be done, a work order could be sent to the appropriate field team.
In high-value crops raised in drought-stressed areas like California, the ability to manage a high-end irrigation system has value. You can learn more at altrac.io.
Jain offers new service
The challenge of more complex systems isn't just facing startups. Jain Irrigation sees an opportunity, too, and has created water management as a service. The idea was recently recognized by the Irrigation Association as a top new product.
"We found out that we would deliver the boxes and do the training, but the user didn't get the benefit of the technology," says Jeff Tuel, executive vice president, Jain. He adds that the training, perhaps taking up to four hours, with new tools wasn't enough.
Yet, growers need better ways to manage their water and maximize their irrigation. Jain's work is mainly in the Central Valley of California, an area dealing with prolonged drought.
The company uses artificial intelligence and advanced technology to manage water through its systems, but the user needs to be able to put it to work. Jain's answer is a system where farmers pay Jain to run their irrigation system for a year.
Jain installs the equipment, sets it up and puts it to work for a year on the operation. "We maintain ownership and manage the system, scheduling and water use," Tuel says. "At the end of the year, they can buy the hardware and software from us."
It turns out after the first year, some customers elect to keep Jain on paying the per-acre management fee to run their irrigation. "We're finding we can help them better manage their water use, and they like what they see," he says.
To learn more about the service, visit jainsusa.com.
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