It’s been reported that the best spy satellites have a resolution that’s high enough to discern a softball-sized object from several hundred miles away or spot a bicycle in your yard from space. Thanks to a partnership between Valley Irrigation and Israeli-based Prospera farmers using Valley pivots can have a near equal view of their crops.
First introduced almost three years ago, Plant Insights, which was developed through the partnership, can literally spot a grasshopper on a corn leaf or a broadleaf weed the size of a quarter using high-resolution cameras mounted on the pivot. Meanwhile, Irrigation Insights, another technology tool developed by Prospera, uses satellite imagery to scout plant health concerns related to water application.
“By looking at the entire pivot circle via satellite, a producer using Irrigation Insights can detect irrigation issues that are difficult to see at ground level with the naked eye,” says Troy Long, Vice-President, Valley Hardware Product. “Color variations on the map, often caused by irrigation irregularities or pivot malfunctions, can indicate over- or under-watered areas, plugged nozzles, and even leaks in the system. As a result, the customer can address the issue much quicker.”
Irrigation + Agronomy
The Valley/Prospera partnership didn’t stop there, however. By introducing Plant Insights, Valley went from being an irrigation company to one that also offers agronomic capabilities.
“Farmers do a good job of scouting and collecting data during planting and harvest,” says Steve Kaniewski, President and CEO of Valmont Industries. “However, it’s a lot harder to monitor the entire field during the growing season. Yet, the pivot is out there throughout the growing season. Our thought was, ‘Why not use the pivot to provide early detection and analysis of crop health issues’.”
As Long explains, the Plant Insights consists of one camera for every two pivot spans, which is mounted directly on the pivot. Thanks to lights built into the monitoring unit, each unit continuously monitors plant health day or night, every time the pivot moves.
“The imagery that is collected is then uploaded to the cloud and analyzed through artificial intelligence to detect specific issues in the field,” he explains.
Prospera’s machine learning input has already allowed Plant Insights to identify and/or monitor emergence, weed pressure, pests, disease, canopy cover, and nutrient deficiency in nine of the most popular crops, including corn, soybeans, potatoes, cotton, and alfalfa.
“We’re continuing to add more crops and more weeds and pests to the artificial intelligence library each year,” Long says. “Just like a field agronomist, the system must be able to distinguish broadleaf weeds and grass from the crop, and crop pests from beneficial insects. Crop health issues are then plotted on a pivot map by GPS location and made available to the grower through mobile and web apps. The producer can even click on any one of the noted spots and see an actual camera view of the weeds, pest or emergence issue and address it accordingly.”
“If I were to describe Plant Insights to a fellow farmer, it would be accurate, real-time data right to your phone that, without a doubt, pays for itself,” says Ryan Brink, third-generation farmer and crop production manager at Golden Grains Farm in Caledonia, Michigan. “Anything the cameras are seeing that could be a potential problem is getting to us right away. In fact, we ended up moving our fertility schedule ahead a little because Plant Insights helped us identify a problem with nutrient deficiency we hadn’t been able to spot earlier.”
“We believe the best way to understand the benefits of Plant Insights is to see it in action,” says Kaniewski. Consequently, Valley has launched an AgTech Tour, which will stretch from Maryland to Georgia to North Dakota and Colorado … ending in Texas in late October. To learn more and see the full schedule, go to agtechtour.com.