September 24, 2019
Irrigation companies have long looked at ways to remotely manage systems. The advent of early cellphones and pivot control offers farmers enhanced control of systems years ago. Yet rising use of sensors and other tools is giving developers new tools and approaches that can help enhance use of existing equipment and manage water use more precisely.
At Valley Irrigation, years of investing in technology, monitoring and other tools has led to creation of Valley 365. “This is our new connected crop management platform that brings all the technology solutions that we’ve got today into a single ecosystem, where growers can access it from a single sign-on platform,” says Ashley Anderson, Valley product manager of technology.
She explains that the new system brings information from AgSense, Valley Scheduling, Valley VRI and Valley Insights together into a single viewable platform. “And then we’ll continue to add technology products into the mix,” she says. “All the data flows seamlessly between the products, and it’s a more integrated solution overall for growers to use.”
In practice, a grower using Valley 365 gets access to a screen that pulls information together from all those systems into a viewable webpage or dashboard. From there, you can select the different services, from sharing variable-rate irrigation plans to your pivot to managing water based on AgSense information.
The newest tool — Valley Insights — is just getting fired up and offers the use of artificial intelligence to identify fields that need attention based on aerial imagery.
App- and web-based
Valley 365 is built in the cloud, so farmers can access their information for a desktop computer or tablet; but in the field, Anderson recommends farmers use the Valley 365 app. “With the app, it’s on the dashboard of your phone. You don’t have to look it up on your Safari or [Chrome] browser or those types of things; it’s easily accessible,” she says.
Anderson explains that the company has been working on different technologies over the years, but in the last two years it was clear there was a need to pull everything together.
“We tested out tried and true technologies that we have as separate applications today, and once we’ve proven they’re successful, and the growers tell us that … that’s when we decided it’s a viable option for us to bring it into a single ecosystem like Valley 365,” she says.
Looking to the future, Anderson explains the new system will be able to offer connections to other services, with yield maps or as-planted and applied information from other systems brought into the system. “That’s going to be a future thing, but we have technology partnerships available where we can leverage our [application program interfaces] to share information back and forth between other technology companies,” she notes.
The AgSense part of Valley 365 means competitive pivot information is visible in the new system as well. In addition, Anderson explains that there are different ways to connect competitive and older machines to the new system.
At work, the new system allows producers to monitor and control their irrigation systems. “They can send commands right from this interface,” Anderson says. “[Users] can also see status information, as well as the command history for those devices; they can write custom prescriptions, for example, for our Valley VRI product. They can set rates down to the individual sprinkler control with this system.”
To access Valley 365, a grower can use their existing AgSense login and then add new devices once connected. The system also works with Valley Scheduling — introduced in 2018 — to view each section of the field and forecast irrigation needs over several days. The new system will require a subscription, and Anderson says the company will have different options available. Valley 365 will be available in early 2020.
CONNECTED CONTROL: Valley can now send over-the-air software updates to its ICON controllers. That ability will assure that users have the latest controller software available without the need to visit every pivot in the field for an update.
Talking over the air
Valley is leveraging technology in several ways, including the ability to push software updates to controllers “over the air.” This new service will work with the company’s ICON control panels and is available through the built-in Valley ICON Link.
With that system, those new panels will be kept up to date with the latest software improvements, and those updates are pushed wirelessly over the cloud. That ends the need for growers to travel to each panel with a USB drive to update each system.
For dealers, it means having the latest software on those controllers automatically, without the need to make many trips to individual fields. And the Valley ICON Link system must be activated to use this new feature.
Managing eyes in the sky
Aerial imagery is becoming more readily available. New sensors are being put to use in innovative ways in agriculture. Imagine bringing the two together for irrigation management. Early in 2019, Valley Irrigation announced a partnership with the startup Prospera Technologies, based in Israel, for new management tools.
Known as Valley Insights, the system will use artificial intelligence to manage precision irrigation. There are long-term plans to put sensors on pivots to better manage water use, but initially Valley Insights is using Prospera technology to maximize system efficiency using aerial imagery.
Craig Bell, Valley product manager, explains that initially, the Prospera system can view aerial imagery and help target areas that need attention for the grower. “We’re identifying issues on machines like clogged sprinklers or partially clogged sprinklers, or water application issues in the field,” he says. “The thing is that we have thermal imagery, so we’re using early detection at the beginning of the season — even before the crop is showing up. And the other aspect is that we have artificial intelligence behind it.”
Aerial imagery is a great tool, but if you have a lot of fields, how do you target fields that need attention fast? That’s where the Prospera tech comes in. Using machine learning, the new system can “see” areas that need attention earlier than a farmer might, simply by looking at a recent stack of images from all fields. Targeting scouting, or specific actions like sprinkler repair, becomes easier.
“We’re only sending farmers a notification when we’ve caught something that is an anomaly in the field,” Bell says. “We send a notification via text to their phone. It’s saving them time, and it’s a big improvement, because they can now trust the system.”
Valley is testing this service in Washington state and in Nebraska. The benefit is that as farms get larger, it becomes more difficult to target available resources, like scouts, to do the most good.
That artificial intelligence and aerial imagery are just a start. Prospera and Valley are at work on ways to bring sensors to the pivot, to manage irrigation much more precisely. Bell says the ultimate goal is the autonomous pivot.
“We’re in the early stages, but we’re progressing quickly,” he says. “This would allow a grower to use that pivot in the field for other things than water.”
That autonomous pivot could act as a field monitor, checking for disease or crop stress, pull in fungicide or fertilizer to be precision-applied — and of course, to add water as needed. That’s part of the development road map for the Valley-Prospera partnership, Bell says. That will also take some time to develop, but he notes that Prospera moves quickly with its technology.
Learn more about the new Valley 365, over-the-air updates and Valley Insights at valleyirrigation.com.
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