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01/01/2008 02:00:00 AM

Wireless systems allow growers to run center-pivots remotely, boosting efficiency

By Renee Stern
Contributing Editor

New irrigation control systems, which can be monitored or programmed remotely using wireless communication, allow growers to use water and labor more efficiently.

2007 marked the first full season that Lindsay Corp.'s FieldNET system was in commercial use. Remote telemetry units link each center-pivot to a secure Internet server using either radio or cellular communications, says Reece Andrews, GrowSmart product manager for the Omaha, Neb., company.

Remote access via a cell-phone or Internet connection allows growers to monitor and program each pivot from almost any location. They receive system alarms as cell-phone text messages, automated phone calls or e-mail alerts.

A map-view feature superimposes pivots on a satellite image of growers' fields. Clicking any pivot shows status updates in real time.

FieldNET provides a consistent user interface for the wide array of irrigation pivots on the market, Andrews says.

Growers may set up pivots with any mix of cellular or radio remote telemetry units, although radio units require a radio-to-Internet bridge back at a base station. Repeaters may be needed to extend network range for far-flung operations or to compensate for topographic and other obstructions.

More efficiency and cost savings

Watts Brothers Farming in Paterson, Wash., this year tried FieldNET on 23 center pivots in 2,000 acres of new ground planted with organic peas, sweet corn, carrots, potatoes and grain. The company has used other remote telemetry systems on its 20,000 acres for about 10 years, says Troy Emmerson, irrigation manager.

"Over time we've seen more and more efficiency and cost savings," he says.

Remote control and monitoring are basic requirements when Watts Brothers opens competitive bidding for new irrigation systems to replace aging units, typically 10 to 12 per year.

FieldNET's online server that offers status checks from anywhere at any time is a new feature for the company.

"We like that tremendously," Emmerson says.

Watts Brothers controls all irrigation operations from a central office staffed around the clock, and sends out technicians to maintain the pivots solely on telemetry readings, Emmerson says.

Monitoring from afar

Jeff Sommers, managing partner at Wysocki Produce Farm Inc. in Plainfield, Wis., also cites system accessibility. The company, which began installing similar products about seven years ago, tried FieldNET this year on 4,500 acres of potatoes, processing vegetables and grain.

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