Whether you're a producer, a researcher or a manufacturer, technology and data play a role in how you make decisions in agriculture. At a Water Matters panel discussion hosted by Lindsay Corp. in Olathe, Kan., in March, irrigators and industry representatives shared their own water-related challenges and how technology has helped address those challenges, improved water efficiency and increased their bottom lines.
John Breedlove. For John Breedlove, who raises corn, popcorn, soybeans and pumpkins in central Illinois, adopting precision irrigation technology is all about time management and return on investment.
He uses Lindsay's FieldNet tool to remotely monitor and control his pivots.
"We showed cattle and pigs and horses. We traveled all over the country. I didn't feel comfortable about going with them. Because I didn't feel comfortable leaving my pivots and being away for that long," Breedlove says. "With [telemetry], I could go ahead, take off, and I'd have it on my phone that I can see everything that's going on."
Last year, he started using FieldNet Advisor, Lindsay's irrigation recommendation program, and it didn't take him long to realize the benefits of variable-rate irrigation.
"On one full pivot I've probably got six different soil types. I've got some ground I can only put on two-tenths and some of the sandhills I was putting on an inch," he says. "At first you're a little skeptical on trusting them. But once I put rain gauges out, checked my soil in the flats and the hills, it made a big difference. Everything was getting watered right."
Ward Neesen. As chief information officer at the Wysocki Family of Cos. produce division in the Central Sands region of Wisconsin, Ward Neesen understands the challenges of providing adequate water at the right time to crops.
While he uses technology like telemetry and capacitance probes to monitor pivots and soil moisture conditions, Neesen notes getting data isn't the challenge; it's making an actionable decision from the data.
"When I started at the Wysocki Family of Cos., I counted 36 different data collection applications that were collecting and storing data. I could not count the number of data collection applications that were actually creating any actionable items. The reason I could not count them is there were none," Neesen says. "My biggest challenge over the last several years has been how do we build, how do we integrate, how do we work with different companies and the data providers to create single sources?"
"We have sensors everywhere. We have yield monitors. We have spray monitors. We have all this stuff happening, but what does that means to the farm manager? How does that make the farm manager not have to drive 200 miles a day?" Neesen asks. "We're starting to see some of those tools emerge now."
Chris Whittinghill. As director of national agribusiness accounts at DTN, Chris Whittinghill notes both market and weather volatility will be a key driver in the adoption of technology in irrigation decisions.
"Weather is becoming more volatile. We see it. We have documented a lot of increases in extreme weather events, drought and things like that," Whittinghill says. "The tools that integrate real-time decision support that account for that variability are going to have the biggest impact, and you'll see adoption take off from things like that."
However, there's also increasing pressure from consumers and regulation that will also pay a role. "We're going to see in agriculture more pressure coming from the general population on this," Whittinghill says. "I was reading an article over the weekend talking about restrictions being placed in Cape Town, South Africa, in Hong Kong, and I would tell you I think agriculture's going to be looked at as the key to water scarcity as we move forward in the growing population. And I think us as good stewards in anything we can do to improve that, document it, you're going to see the adoption automatically from that."
Randy Kasparbauer. As product manager with John Deere's API platform, Randy Kasparbauer says it isn't just about data collected through remote-sensing. Farm equipment collects data from all stages of the production cycle.
"There are data points collected throughout that entire cycle that are very useful to the management of a farm. Irrigation equipment is not something that John Deere directly manufacturers, but we know it's critically important to the farming operation," Kasparbauer says. "That data that's being collected can be used back and forth to help optimize that farming operation. The crop type, the planting dates, even seed populations are very important to know exactly how to irrigate that specific crop in a precise way."
At the Water Matters event, Lindsay announced the integration of John Deere Operations Center into Lindsay's FieldNet tool. Kasparbauer notes integrations like these are a necessary step toward grower adoption.
I think there's a network effect in the community of agriculture today. They are working together and seeing the value of precision ag and what these precision tools can really bring — to not only help grow a better crop, but also be profitable businesses and be stewards of the land all at the same time," he says.
Brian Magnusson. As vice president of technology at Lindsay, Brian Magnusson says driving adoption of technology takes demonstrating the value proposition from the technology — and that sometimes comes down to seeing it for yourself. Magnusson recalls his own experience introducing FieldNet to his father, who farms in eastern Nebraska.
"I said, 'Dad when can we come put this technology on your pivots?' He said, 'Nope, no way. Absolutely not.' He's run his mechanical control panels for 40 years now; he knows how they work. He didn't want to do it," says Magnusson. "Eventually in March, I had a team from the local dealership go and install the products on his pivots."
However, when irrigation season rolled around, Magnusson said it didn't take long for his dad to realize the value of the technology.
"Sure enough, June first rolls around and he thinks it's time to start the pivot, and my phone rings. He says, 'I need you to start the north pivot.' I said, 'Let me walk you through how to do this on the app.' He gets out his mobile phone and he does it," Magnusson says. "He called me one more time, and he never called me again. Now I guarantee you couldn't take the technology away from him."