The Latest in Agricultural Mechanization: Irrigation Monitoring

By Matthew Sussis on June 19, 2019

As farm industry lobbyists continue to push the White House to increase the number of seasonal agriculture visas such as the H-2A, it is important to consider the ways in which the latest advances in farm technology are making much of the industry's most labor-intensive work obsolete.

Previously, I wrote about how unmanned drones are improving efficiencies across the crop cycle, from soil analysis to planting to crop monitoring.

At the latest National Farm Machinery Show, an annual convention hosted in Kentucky in which the farm industry shows off its latest equipment and services, irrigation leader Lindsay Corporation displayed its latest technology: the Pivot Watch.

Powered by solar energy, the Pivot Watch attaches to span pipe in a central pivot irrigation system. This common form of irrigation, also known as water-wheel irrigation, involves sprinklers rotating around a pivot to water crops in a circular pattern. The Pivot Watch uses GPS technology and allows growers to monitor irrigation remotely by watching their pivot's various functions such as position, status, and speed.

According to Lindsay, approximately 70 percent of North American growers do not currently have remote monitoring capabilities for their irrigation. The Pivot Watch costs just $300, meaning it's a relatively low-cost solution that would allow growers to cut back on another labor-intensive part of the crop cycle — monitoring irrigation in person.

The Pivot Watch is part of Lindsay's broader "FieldNET" offering, which allows growers to fully automate and monitor their irrigation schedule in order to determine how much water the crops are receiving. On top of being more labor-efficient, these solutions also help cut back on water use, improving environmental sustainability in farming practices.

The irrigation monitoring landscape continues to expand. Valmont offers its "AgSense" irrigation solution, which allows remote management of pivots through phones, tablets, and computers. Reinke offers a similar product, powered by its own ag data service that is also compatible with the large majority of pivots.

Given that irrigation monitoring technology is environmentally friendly, one might imagine that it would receive support from environmental and conservation groups such as the Sierra Club. Unfortunately, however, this type of technology directly pits conservationists against high-immigration lobbies who would prefer to rely on a steady flow of guestworkers.

As one immigration activist admitted earlier this year, many conservation groups such as the Sierra Club stopped lobbying against more immigration when other left-wing groups told them that doing so was against "intersectionality", and that environmentalists would have to sideline their concerns about high levels of immigration in order to remain in the political left's good graces.

Nonetheless, as Mark Krikorian has argued, perhaps the best thing we could offer farmers is not more H-2A visas but rather "a robot in every field". Automated irrigation systems are a great place to start.