When it comes to center pivots, Valley Irrigation believes delivering water to crops is just scratching the surface of the machine's potential. In early 2019, Valmont announced its partnership with Prospera, an Israel-based ag tech company, with the goal of automatizing crop management with the help of center pivot irrigation, aerial imagery and other remote sensing devices.
This partnership led to Valley Insights, a program launched on a trial basis in 2019 that uses aerial and other types of imagery to monitor crop changes and scout for crop health concerns related to water application, pests, disease, weeds or other issues in the field. Last year, Valley and Prospera kicked off trials in Nebraska and Washington state, and they expanded trials into Idaho for 2020.
Darren Siekman, vice president of water delivery and business development at Valmont, notes some highlights from the second year of Valley Insights.
"In our Valley Insights trials in the Pacific Northwest this year, we had some good luck on potato fields with growers catching things early — in some cases weeks before they would have otherwise — both on irrigation-related issues and also from a pest and disease standpoint," Siekman says. "We were able to identify insect damage, potato beetles and caterpillar damage. We were also able to detect blight and fungus issues, and weed emergence, early on. Growers could then turn it over to their agronomist, or take action right away."
Siekman notes an example from 2019, when Eric Williamson of Quincy, Wash., estimated he could have saved $25,000 if he had applied the technology to all of his fields, instead of only trial acres.
"It was showing up as an insight, and they couldn't see it from the spray pattern on the center pivot until they physically walked up to the nozzle and saw it had something plugging it," Siekman says. "They wouldn't have caught it all year until they saw the decreased yield at harvest."
The next step, Siekman says, is testing on-pivot sensors and cameras with the Insights program.
"We’re moving forward with on-pivot sensors in 2021. We tested them on a limited basis this year, and we got some great images that came right off the pivot," he says. "We felt that was a pretty big leap forward because it was happening in real time, with no human intervention."
This summer, Valley also announced the acquisition of PrecisionKing, a Mississippi-based ag tech company focused on moisture monitoring, pump control and remote sensing — especially flood-irrigation systems and flood-irrigated crops, such as rice.
"We're not just getting a customer base in the Delta," Siekman says. "This has historically been more of a flood-irrigation region, so we wanted to pick up some of the technology that helps manage and monitor moisture in flood-irrigated rice fields. That includes a product called RiceKing for water-level monitoring and pump control products like PumpKing. They also have an app, and we'll be integrating that into Valley 365 — right from your phone you'll be able to control PrecisionKing products, the same way you can control Valley products.
"If you're irrigating when your crop doesn't need it, you're wasting water, no matter the method. That's something we've really focused on with Valley 365 and Valley Scheduling. We determine what the crop needs, and we'll provide it to the crop whatever method the farmer is using. We were founded in 1954 as a center pivot company — that's our lifeblood — but it benefits us and our growers to make sure they're conserving their resources in a way that ultimately saves them money."
Earlier this summer, Valley also acquired Brazil-based Solbras, now known as Valmont Solar Solutions. Solbras provides a turnkey setup for solar power. This includes photovoltaic cells and inverters, as well as a unique solar energy monitoring system. While not currently available in the U.S., Siekman says these solar products will be available in 2021 through the same Valley dealerships growers buy pivots and other irrigation technology from.
"A lot of companies can put up solar equipment, but Solbras provided a great monitoring system," Siekman says. "They sit down with the grower, look at his energy bills and make sure they provide a return on investment. That's very popular in Brazil, because power is so expensive there. Even here, if I'm looking at an older power unit I might want to replace, there are applications. It's another arrow in our quiver, so we'll be bringing that up to the states. It will be tied in with Valley 365, so you can look at power output on a daily basis."