Intelligence now bathes in irrigation

With the prospects linked to climate change, the development of water resources is a major challenge for agriculture. This notably involves the use of irrigation equipment capable of providing water as closely as possible to the needs of the plant. It is for this purpose that over the last twelve years there has been a proliferation of remote control of pivots and ramps. All settings that were made from the cabinet at the foot of the equipment can now be made from anywhere and at any time from a computer, smartphone or tablet. With most manufacturers, these remote management devices are adaptable to old pivots of any brandthanks in particular to the use of GPS positioning which accurately assesses the position of the pivot. An irrigator will thus be able to equip his entire park, without having to renew it entirely.

The offer of irrigation specialists is now very wide, ranging from the simple installation monitoring system, to the digital platform offering different management modules. Valley 365 solutions from Valley and Smart Pivot from Lindsay are the most recent examples. In addition to the remote control of equipment (booms, pivots, pumps), these two management devices are complemented by digital tools that go beyond irrigation, ensuring much more global agronomic approach.

Irrigation schedules derived from algorithms

The first brick of these platforms, the forecasting and planning of water supplies are based on the crop data provided by the farmer, weather data (local forecasts and weather stations), or the water status of the soil (probes). From the digital models, the tool can thus propose an irrigation schedule over several days, which will be validated by the irrigator.

Another feature that recently appeared on the pivots (but also on the ramps) and which is beginning to prove itself in France, thevariable dose irrigation VRI (Variable rate irrigation) allowsadapt the quantity of water provided according to a recommendation card. There are different levels of sophistication in the management of VRI. The simplest principle, thepivot speed adaptation according to zones defined by sector of one or two degrees, makes it possible to vary the dose over the entire length of the pivot. In order to obtain greater zoning precision, the VRI can also have a management of the opening of the sprinklers by sections.

Modulation of the water dose with the VRI

In this example of implementation of the VRI, each sprinkler can open and close, but also alternate opening and closing sequentially to adapt the water dose, all according to the crop, the terrain or the ‘obstacle.

© Lindsay

But the most successful solution consists in no longer acting on the speed, but to individually control the opening and closing of the sprinklers (like the pulsating nozzles on sprayers), so as to modulate the supply by following zones with very varied shapes, typical of modulation maps. One can imagine shutting off the sprinklers along an obstacle, or the edge of the plot, but above all respecting the doses very precisely, in a plot with very heterogeneous soil. “The VRI imposes a significant additional cost which was partly offset for the first installations in France, by state aid of 30 to 40%. In addition to experimental farms, the first customers are farmers very involved in sowing and fertilization modulation, who wish to go all the way by modulating their water supply »explains Frédéric Noguier at Lindsay.

Pivots under satellite surveillance

Measurement of the NDVI index from satellite images, highlighting areas where the vegetation is underdeveloped, probably due to excessive watering.

Measurement of the NDVI index from satellite images, highlighting areas where the vegetation is underdeveloped, probably due to excessive watering.

© Valley

To go even further in the monitoring of irrigation, but also of culture, the digital platforms of Valley and Lindsay integrate services based on theimage analysis. For this, the two firms have approached two start-ups specializing in this field. Lindsay partnered with Taranis, while Valley acquired Prospera. The latter is the origin of the Valley Insights services. Based on satellite images (resolution of 3 meters per pixel), Irrigation Insights allows a early detection of irrigation anomalies. “Visualization of under-irrigated areas may be linked to a pivot speed or pressure problem in the area concerned.illustrates Emmanuel Portier, technological product specialist at Valley-Prospera. In the case of under-irrigated circles, one can suspect clogged or faulty sprinklers. » After proving its worth in the United States, this new service is coming to Europe at a rate of around 4.50 euros per hectare.

Cameras to scrutinize culture

The high-resolution cameras mounted on the pivot offer such precision that it is possible to detect the edges of leaves attacked by pests: here, potatoes affected by beetles.

The high-resolution cameras mounted on the pivot offer such precision that it is possible to detect the edges of leaves attacked by pests: here, potatoes affected by beetles.

© Valley

The second solution proposed by Valley, Plant Insights uses high resolution cameras (precision less than one millimeter) installed on the pivot to detect this time agronomic anomalies. Each span has a camera that analyzes a 3 meter strip of the crop, at each passage of the pivot. These cameras are connected via wifi to a modem box installed at the base of the pivot, which sends the information to the cloud, where it is processed by the algorithms. The great precision of detection gives access to a very complete report on the culture: counting of emerged plants, counting of weeds, calculation of leaf cover, percentage of leaf surface affected by pests or diseases, detection of pests, game damage, deficiency areas, etc. “This highly innovative device, which operates independently of the pivot, is still being improved with algorithms being refined with data acquisition. Five crops are currently eligible: corn, potato, beets, soy and cotton. The Plant Insights is only offered for rental in the United States at a rate of approximately $3,500 per year for a pivot. In Europe, a first pivot will be equipped with it this year on an experimental farm in Spain”specifies Emmanuel Portier.

Pivots full of sensors to anticipate breakdowns

Graphic representation of the available water evaluated by the digital tool on the different zones of the pivot, with a forecast of irrigation needs.

Graphic representation of the available water evaluated by the digital tool on the different zones of the pivot, with a forecast of irrigation needs.

© Lindsay

At Lindsay, the Smart Pivot also performs hyper-detailed diagnostics of the crop and the operation of the irrigation installation. The manufacturer uses satellite images for global analysis, supplemented by multispectral sensors and high-definition cameras on board the pivot. He can also use a drone flight to quickly analyze an incriminated area, without waiting for the pivot to pass. “The first installations equipped with the Smart Pivot will be tested for the 2022 campaign in the United States. We then plan to continue the tests in Europe from 2023, for marketing during the 2024 campaign”, specifies Frédéric Noguier.

Predictive maintenance on pivots

Lindsay's Smart Pivot interface showing detection of an underinflated tire on a pivot tower, along with an alert on tower alignment and drive motor status.

Lindsay’s Smart Pivot interface showing detection of an underinflated tire on a pivot tower, along with an alert on tower alignment and drive motor status.

© Lindsay

The Valley 365 by Valley and Smart Pivot by Lindsay platforms include a module for diagnosing the operation of the installation. The continuous monitoring provided by various sensors allows early detection of failures, reduces downtime and provides access to predictive maintenance.

Called Machine diagnostics, the Valley device is integrated into all Icon 5 and 10 control panels for the information part. It also requires adding relays to the towers and water pressure sensors. Each wheel is equipped with valves equipped with a sensor checking tire pressure. On pivots equipped with X-Tec transmission, characterized by electric motors with frequency variator, the system can also detect electrical problems (power or intensity), motor abnormalities (overheating or speed) and misalignment.

Lindsay’s Smart Pivot also has the particularity of integrating numerous sensors on the components of the pivot ensuring a very precise diagnosis of its operation. The system analyzes in particular, on each lap, the electrical voltage, the electrical consumption of the motor, the temperature of the motor and the gearbox, the vibrations, the tire pressure, etc.

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