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Autonomous 24/7 field monitoring

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Format: Mark Moore

Autonomous growing technology provides 24/7 field monitoring, and it’s just the beginning. Courtesy of Valley Irrigation, Matt Friend has 45 centre pivot irrigation systems to keep 45,500 hectares of land under control during the growing season. The farmer in Mason County, Illinois, spends a lot of time in the fields with irrigated corn and a variety of irrigated vegetables.

Friend admits that even on his best days, it can be challenging to scout a 135-acre field with a center pivot system. “At best, I’m only covering a fraction of the field,” he says, “and that’s especially true of corn fields later in the season.”

That’s why he was curious about using the Valley Plant Insights system on one of his center pivots. The cameras are mounted on the stakes, giving him a view of the entire field. The captured images are analyzed for problems in the field and reports are sent directly to Friend’s computer or smartphone through the Valley Insights app. The cameras were so accurate that Friend was able to get herd counts in her corn that matched the herd ratios measured during seeding. “It was amazing, and it was information that I could use,” he says.


The system is about more than just a photo. Valmont Industries, the parent company of Valley Irrigation, recently completed the acquisition of Prospera, an Israel-based company that has developed artificial intelligence technologies that can use information gathered by remote sensing in the field for early detection and enhanced reconnaissance, allowing the grower to make quick and informed decisions at critical stages of crop production.

The key to Prospera’s system is that it uses analytics and alerts, along with high-resolution imagery from the field, to detect, monitor and provide information. “A lot of work has been done on field sensors, but the main problem is that these systems can be expensive, not easily scalable and may not fit into a farmer’s operation,” says Darren Siekman, vice president of business development for Valley Irrigation. “With Prospera, we use the images that are available and then analyze the information gathered from those photos.”

Siekman says the technology is a natural fit. “We mount the system on our irrigation systems so they are out in the field and ready to go,” he says. “Growers are already using automated systems to remotely control center pivots. It’s simply the next step where growers can monitor and know what’s happening in the field.”

While the system monitors when and where water is needed in the field, the information it provides goes beyond irrigation. “Valley Plant Insights can complement current crop monitoring and detect weed or disease pressure long before it becomes visible in the field,” Siekman says. “The system analyzes the imagery and detects problems early.”


Valley Insights has two distinct and separate services: Irrigation Insights, which provides information on irrigation problems in the field by analyzing captured aerial or satellite imagery, and Plant Insights, which provides leaf-level information by analyzing data captured by sensors mounted on irrigation taps in the field.

Daniel Koppel, President of Valmont’s Technology Group and CEO of Prospera, says the captured imagery provides tremendous insight into what is happening in the field during the growing season. “Growers now have a tool that can provide information such as disease pressure, weed pressure, nutrient deficiencies and pests.” Growers can review this information to determine the actions they need to take.

“We are proud of Valley Irrigation’s history of providing irrigation solutions for growers,” says Siekman. “But when you think about it, what other tools are in the field 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? What’s great about this technology is that it keeps an eye on the field every day. “The challenge, Siekman says, is to offer more tools to growers. “We want to give producers information so they can make informed decisions based on what’s happening in the field,” he says. “Whether it’s irrigation needs, information on fertility or insect and disease pressure.”

The information gathered will also help the company develop its autonomous crop production technology. “The more information we collect in the field, the more information we can analyze to further refine our image analysis,” Siekman says. “Anyone can hang up a camera and take a bunch of photos. The beauty of this system is that it analyses those photos and provides information to the grower.”

Friend is impressed with the information he has gathered in his first year of using the system, but is even more excited about further improvements.