You’re driving through a rural area on your way to your next appointment when you decide to check in with the office.
Little did you know that the apple orchard to your left is checking in with the farmer asking for a fungicide spraying, while the corn to your right is requesting additional irrigation.
OK, the corn isn’t actually calling the farmer, but the technology isn’t that different from what you use to call the office.
“The system uses radio communication to collect remote data from different sites in near-real time,” says John Mascoe, sales manager North America for Adcon Telemetry, manufacturer of the product.
Data, including moisture and soil information, is collected using solar-powered sensors located at various points in the crop. This information is relayed using wireless technology to a central computer located as far as 60 miles away that analyzes it.
“We are trying to maintain the best soil-water-plant relationship,” says Mascoe. “You don’t want too much water or too little. The computer looks at each individual site.”
The farmer can take this data and selectively apply the right amount of water to each individual site within his crop. The system also allows for a more effective use of fungicides.
“To have disease, you have to have a host, the correct environmental conditions and a pathogen,” says Mascoe. “We’re assuming the host and pathogen are present. Our software monitors the environmental conditions. When the optimal conditions for a particular disease are met, an alarm is triggered.”
The farmer can then selectively apply the expensive fungicide to only those areas that are most susceptible to the disease.
“Traditionally, farmers would spray crops on a calendar basis,” says Mascoe. “We are finding out that is not the best way either environmentally or economically.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re just putting rubber on it. This technology allows growers to collect information they want and process it in real time. They don’t have time to go pull moisture sensors from the field and check them manually.”
The number of wireless sensors needed for each crop depends on topography. If the fields are located on a level plain with similar soil conditions, fewer sensors are needed, because the data is probably going to be the same for all locations. If the fields are on rolling terrain, more sensors are needed, because soil temperature and moisture levels will be different. The sensors themselves are small, only about 10 inches high by 6 inches wide.
“We do get cases of ‘tractor blight’ (farmers running them over with their tractors), but they’re marked effectively,” says Mascoe.
The information from the main computer is presented in a graphical format with adjustable settings for various alarm levels. You can even it set it to page you when an alarm is tripped.
“This is a management tool, not a silver bullet,” says Mascoe. “We never advocate blindly following the system. It’s a tool for them to pinpoint problems. It will never replace a human taking a look at what’s going on.”
Farmers can buy their own systems or work with a local distributor usually the local ag retailer to lease a system. With a lease, the central computer is at the ag retailer, with individual farmers accessing their information via modem.
How to reach: Adcon Telemetry, www.adcon.com or (561) 989-5309
Todd Shryock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is SBN’s special reports editor.