AgWatch


“Reinke Presents: Water – Simple, But Technical”






MIKE MILLS

DESHLER, NE.
   Water is the lifeblood, literally, of every crop produced. Two-thirds of crop insurance claims are water related, from either too much or too little. Every day is a battle between how much the crop needs and how much the crop has. The concept is pretty simple: Give a plant water and watch it grow. The execution is where things get technical.
   The challenge in modern mechanized irrigation is controlling the water to be applied. The incorporation of several technologies allows the producer to monitor water application and system operation, control system functions and retrieve information about historical operation. The technologies currently in use include Computers and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC’s), GPS and Telemetry. Each technology has its own features and benefits.
   Computers & PLC’s
   The incorporation of computers and PLC’s into mechanized irrigation has vastly improved the ability to achieve effective irrigation. It allows the operator to program operational guidelines to achieve basic automation, monitor operational status and record real-time events. These processors have been introduced in areas beyond the main irrigation control panel. They have been installed in the control boxes at the top of towers to record data and regulate water application and valves, in the guidance systems for swing-arm corners to maximize the coverage area while allowing for rapid reprogramming of travel path and in remote locations such as offices or laptops that provide real-time status and reporting.  When connected to an on-site weather monitoring device, the incorporation of a computer or PLC allows the control panel to react to real time weather events. Stopping operations when adverse weather conditions occur, and restarting operations when appropriate without the need for on-site personnel is an enormous labor saving feature.
   GPS
   GPS technology has greatly enhanced the functionality of mechanized irrigation through use in several areas of equipment. The earliest use was to monitor the position of the machine and accurately operate end guns. As the computer and PLC’s began to be incorporated, the GPS position monitoring drove even more advancements in operational function by allowing functional control of water supply, the control and monitoring of injection equipment for fertigation operations and the ability to record event history with location markers. This feature is among the most powerful, by creating a record of EXACTLY where in the coverage area certain features were active or not. This record can be critical in the reporting to regulatory agencies about responsible water application or product applications. In addition to position monitoring, GPS technology advanced to allow guidance options. Guidance is critical in lateral move and swing-arm corner operations. The accuracy of current GPS technology allows operators to maximize the coverage areas of these machines while significantly reducing the potential for unintended path or crashes. GPS based guidance also eliminates the reliability and maintenance concerns of underground and mechanical guidance methods, resulting in a reduction in repair and maintenance costs and an increase in reliability.
   Telemetry
   Telemetry is commonly considered to be “remote control,” but there is so much more to telemetry options than just that. Telemetry is a communication method where a device is placed on a piece of irrigation equipment that has certain features and functions determined by the brand of machine, brand of telemetry and irrigation equipment features. The more advanced the technology equipment (those machines equipped with Computers, PLC’s and GPS), the more functionality from a telemetry package. There are several different methods of achieving telemetry, and each method provides a set of features and benefits that are unique. The most common methods are satellite, cellular and RF (radio).  Satellite telemetry communicates with a network of satellites that are in geosynchronous orbit and provide virtually worldwide coverage. Data is transmitted to the satellite network, where it is then bundled and sent to a ground based “distribution center” where it is then disseminated to the user through any number of methods including internet, e-mail and text messaging. Satellite telemetry is highly reliable, especially in remote areas, and high functioning in terms of the amount of data and complexity of commands that can be handled, but also has a cost, typically through subscription fees from the data management service. Cellular telemetry has many of the same features as satellite, but uses ground based cell towers rather than satellites to carry the data. The subscriptions for cell monitoring might be a little lower, but coverage can be a challenge in rural areas. RF telemetry offers the highest function in terms of the amount of data that can be moved and the level of programming and control that can be achieved. These systems have little or no cost for moving that data, but are limited by the fact that the equipment radios must communicate with each other.
   The deployment of these technology products has taken the world of water application high-tech. This allows for more information, better and more effective water management and reduced labor costs while maximizing yield potential and reducing crop loss risks. ∆
   MIKE MILLS: Reinke Southeast Territory Manager, Reineke
MidAmerica Farm Publications, Inc
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