Farming goes high tech
Valmont Industries is an international company leading the industry in irrigation products by merging advanced technology with high functionality to meet customers’ needs. As the worldwide leader in center pivot and linear irrigation equipment with operations in 20 countries, the company provides farmers with solutions for conserving water and meeting the growing worldwide demand for food.
Farming, the world’s oldest industry, is undergoing rapid change due to increasing demand in emerging markets and technological advances that have changed the way farmers work. By the end of the 19th century, farmers were able to cover more land at a faster pace, fueling an increase in both the size of farms and their production — fewer farmers are working, and on larger farms than in the past. Today, the average U.S. farmer is able to feed 155 people, compared to 19 people in 1940.1
For more than a decade, farmers also have enjoyed the advances of precision agriculture, and researchers estimate the productivity gains at 10 percent and average input savings of 15 percent for GPS-enabled technology alone.2 Many industry watchers expect the rate of adoption of precision farming solutions to only increase as aging growers are replaced by a younger generation. As of the USDA’s 2012 census of agriculture, the average farmer in the U.S. was 58 years old, with nearly six farmers over the age of 65 for every farmer under 35,3 and many of these tech-savvy incoming growers graduated from agricultural colleges with coursework covering farming automation and technology.
Central to its mission is the desire to give farmers solutions that improve their quality of life, and with more than 2 million farms in the U.S. alone,4 this is no insubstantial goal.
In a traditional farm setting, the farmer needs to physically be in the field each day to monitor the equipment, assess its condition and take readings. With equipment manufactured by a variety of vendors, farmers must learn to use multiple software tools to configure each piece of equipment. In addition, there is an industry-wide underutilization of scientific data for effective farming; for example, many irrigation systems continue to sprinkle water, even when it’s raining. An increasing number of farmers are turning to precise control and monitoring capabilities that allow them to more efficiently manage their business – freeing up time and money for other undertakings in an industry with notoriously small profit margins.
With more than 50 years of experience and more than 40,000 irrigation systems sold, the client had a strong foothold in the industry but needed to modernize its products to retain its industry-leading status. The company turned to PK, a global experience engineering firm with extensive experience in data-driven systems and applications development, to lead the project.
PK was engaged to develop a central mobile-enabled application able to monitor, control and manage operations across the farm, freeing the farmers from the need to physically assess conditions and control equipment on their farms.
The solution enables farmers to monitor soil moisture and manage ancillary tools, sensors and devices, regardless of manufacturer. A farmer can access the system, which helps utilize critical resources effectively by calculating scientific data, via desktop or a mobile app. Streaming audio and video with a command-based interface can allow farmers to view field conditions in real time and respond accordingly. The end result is a secure solution that pushes monitoring and control technology to the next level to improve the agricultural industry and farmers’ quality of life. PK continues to partner with Valmont to build, implement and support the solution.
1 Comparing agriculture of the past with today. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2018, from http://animalsmart.org/animals-and-the-environment/comparing-agriculture-of-the-past-with-today
2 Pham, Nam, D. The Economic Benefits of Commercial GPS Use in the U.S. and The Costs of Potential Disruptions, NDP Consulting Group (June 2011) at 6 – 7
3 US Farms and Farmers. (2014, February). Retrieved March 5, 2018, from http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Preliminary_Report/Highlights.pdf
4 Agriculture. (2018, March 5). Retrieved March 5, 2018, from https://www.epa.gov/agriculture