Due to the recent drought AgTech and water use in the West is a hot topic. There is considerable interest in how field technologies like soil moisture monitoring help better manage a limited supply of water while still producing healthy crops, good yields and keep pollutants out of ground water. To achieve these goals growers are determined to learn about technologies available today to better manage water. To help, state and federal agencies are providing funds to assist offsetting some costs to purchase the technology. You can read about one of them here. All parties have goals and intentions to tackle these challenges and now is the time to plan how best to succeed in their use.
Ready Aim Fire Instead Of Fire Ready Aim
As with most projects, planning before jumping in is a big part of success or frustration. Taking a few simple steps at the beginning of an AgTech implementation to create a plan helps. Even for operations already using systems additional planning is worth the effort.
“Success doesn’t just happen, it’s planned for.”
Working with growing operations over the last decade I have seen many common missteps and have developed 4 steps to take when using many of the different technologies available today to improve chances for success.
Make A Plan – Look at your goals for what you want to achieve.
Pick A Champion – Who is going to be responsible for understanding, using and communicating with the team about the technology?
Pick The Technology – Once the first steps are taken picking the right tool will be easier.
Validate The Data – Possibly the most important step in the process. To trust any field technology validating the information is critical.
Making A Plan –The whys and goals.
Every operation is different but here is a start for important goals for a water management plan:
- Assure you are delivering the water your crop needs without over irrigating.
- Support Nutrient Management Plans.
- Record water use to meet reporting requirements by states or water districts.
- Verify irrigations are being applied as planned.
In addition to water management many systems provide insight into other important growing factors in the field. Start with one or two critical success factors, but think through what you may want to measure in the future. This planning helps select systems that will grow with you. This may be weather and environmental conditions such as ET, crop stress, leaf wetness or pump and valve control.
Hardware is only part of the equation.
It is easy to get excited to see the interesting sensors, controls and telemetry/data logging equipment while overlooking the software tools that support the information they collect. It is important to understand these applications. Once the system hardware is installed in the field you may never look at it again, but you use the software application each time you work with the technology. Great sensors need great applications to deliver truly valuable information to assist in making your farming decisions.
Lastly when looking at your plan think though what you need from your product supplier. Some good questions to ask include -what are their plans, and what stage of growth are they in? Is the provider in it for the long term, or do their investors have an exit strategy? Are you an early adopter comfortable with the risk of having the latest cutting edge technology, or are you more comfortable with technologies with more field history?
Pick a Champion –The Leader Role
Even if you work with a company that provides the installation servicing and support of your technologies you need a person who will be the “Champion” or “lead” for the project. Think of how you work with your accounting tools. You may have a bookkeeper or CPA who manages your books for you, understanding what they do, the reports they create for you and the how you finances are critical to your success, this is the same for technology.
The Champion Should be:
- Fully trained on all aspects of using the technology.
- Trained to use software applications providing field data and analytics.
- Knowledgeable of how the irrigation and pumping systems work.
- Trained on field service or be the point of contact for Service Company.
- The team communicator for how to apply what is learned.
Responsible For Implementing the Systems:
- Make sure the software application has all the field information it needs to power its tools.
- Manage soil moisture thresholds, alert tools, field mapping, etc.
- Work with field teams on how to use information.
Picking the Right Technologies – Apply the Plan
Once you have a plan in place and have a champion, picking the right tools will be much easier. Now you have a filter to make sure the products align with your goals, work within your operation and grow with you.
Validate Your Data –The Trust Builder
Validating information coming from the field matches reality is the most important step to success when using AgTech. Information has no value if you and your team does not trust it. The best way to build trust is validating data. When you start monitoring moisture in a soil profile some data may go against what you believed to be true in the past. Validating your readings are correct is the key to getting past doubt.
In the case of monitoring soil moisture use a soil auger to check moisture conditions to the full depth you are measuring moisture comparing it to your data. This will help you determine your wet and dry levels allowing to set points in your application to drive your irrigation decisions around.
Key Things in Validation
- During the first season use of a soil auger should be regular.
- Often data may be different than expected, this does not mean it is incorrect.
- If information does not make sense close your computer and go to the field and investigate.
Today AgTech is more exciting than ever. We have more choices and options than ever before. Don’t let the choices and options sway you to make a fire, ready, aim decision. If you follow my recommendations you won’t be guaranteed a successful implementation, but your chances for success will increase considerably. I hope you find these steps valuable and they help you reach JAIN’s goal to “grow more crop per drop”. If you enjoyed this article please consider subscribing to the blog of follow me on twitter @Tomdevol