Irrigation Leader
Featured,  Innovator,  Interview

How Lindsay’s Remote Pivot Management Software Boosts Efficiency

Lindsay Corporation has been innovating in the irrigation and infrastructure worlds for over half a century. Based in Omaha, Nebraska, the company has a global presence. Lindsay’s innovative tools for irrigated agriculture include its FieldNET integrated remote monitoring and management software and its full line of FieldNET hardware devices. In this interview, Reece Andrews, a product manager at Lindsay, speaks with Irrigation Leader Managing Editor Joshua Dill about FieldNET and how it has affected growers and irrigators across the country.

Joshua Dill: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.

Reece Andrews: I started at the Lindsay Corporation right out of high school back in 1987 and worked in general production. I attended college at night, as a nontraditional student, and studied business administration with an emphasis on marketing. I moved up through the company, working in engineering, information technology, and industrial automation. In 1994, because of my computer background, I was asked to help develop our first digital control panel. We didn’t have a product manager for technology yet at that point, and I was asked to take on that role. Today, I continue as a product manager for our FieldNET brand of remote monitoring and control solutions, as well as our Zimmatic- branded controllers. I have been at Lindsay for 31 years and have been in product management for the past 21 years.

Joshua Dill: Please tell us about Lindsay Corporation.

Reece Andrews: Called Lindsay Manufacturing Company at the time, it was established in 1955 as a farm equipment repair business. The founding Zimmerer family designed and built its first irrigation equipment in the 1960s. Today, Lindsay is one of the top two center-pivot companies worldwide, but our primary manufacturing plant is still located in the small community of Lindsay, Nebraska. Our focus has been on automating and innovating the center pivot to come up with solutions to meet food and fiber needs. Around 2006, we started to diversify into road safety and infrastructure products. Agriculture and infrastructure products are actually similar in that both industries have to react to a rapidly growing world population.

Lindsay’s irrigation equipment brand is Zimmatic, which includes our mechanized center-pivot and lateral-move systems used in broadacre agriculture applications. FieldNET, launched in 2007, is our remote irrigation management technology. It can actually monitor and control irrigation systems of any brand; we feel it’s important to automate and modernize any mechanized irrigation system out there.

On the transportation side, Lindsay’s key offerings include road-safety equipment and the Road Zipper, a moveable barrier system that adds flexibility and safety to roadways
like bridges and tunnels, including the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Lindsay also acquired an Italian company called Snoline, a European leader in road marking and safety equipment. We also manufacture products for the rail, oil and gas, and lighting industries through our Olathe, Kansas–based industrial Internet of things business, Elecsys.

Joshua Dill: How many people work for Lindsay?

Reece Andrews: Around 1,100 globally.

Joshua Dill: Please give us an overview of Lindsay’s FieldNET product range.

Reece Andrews: FieldNET by Lindsay is a broadly integrated software solution for remote irrigation monitoring and management, and it also includes a full range of FieldNET- ready Zimmatic controllers. The system is web-based and can be accessed using mobile apps, which is convenient for our users, who are mobile by the nature of the work they do. We also have decision-support applications like FieldNET Advisor. We can also add sensors and other types of monitoring hardware to center pivots, as well as pumps, flow meters, and fertilizer injectors. Our platform gets information from equipment in the field, processes that information, and makes recommendations on a high level about what equipment should be running, when it should be irrigating, how much a farmer should irrigate, and how much water should be placed in specific areas of a field.

Joshua Dill: Why do farmers use FieldNET Advisor, and what does it do for them?

Reece Andrews: One of the biggest reasons that growers use FieldNET Advisor is that it takes the guesswork out of irrigation. FieldNET Advisor helps growers automatically collect all the critical inputs that would otherwise be too laborious and complicated to collect and performs complex calculations with those inputs to provide highly accurate recommendations. FieldNET Advisor can be broken down into four subcomponents. There’s the irrigation part, which gives recommendations on when, where, and how much to irrigate. It provides high-resolution soil and water depletion maps of the entire field and allows a farmer to set customized irrigation alerts.

The second subcomponent is a crop advisor. That provides dynamic crop-growth models and estimates
of crop canopy development, stage of growth, and root growth, as well as crop stress predictions. It can also estimate the yield impact of various decisions, which can include running simulations ahead of time. A farmer can look at a forecast and ask, “If I don’t irrigate today, what will happen?” If the impact is minimal, it might be better to take a slight yield hit and save the water, fertilizer, fuel, and electricity.

Third, there is the weather advisor, which provides field- specific weather data: a 15-day outlook of hourly and daily weather forecasts. Again, it can be used to set customized weather alerts. With the irrigation advisor, the crop advisor, and the weather advisor, a farmer can move beyond just turning on their pivot with a single application amount and instead irrigate specific zones in the field based on the crops’ actual needs. A farmer can use our variable rate irrigation (VRI) advisor, which autogenerates and continuously updates VRI models depending on changing conditions in the field. We can save water and increase yields by using these different tools and turning the data they provide into actionable recommendations. That is the key.

Joshua Dill: So your system integrates the farmer’s own data, weather data, and data pulled from other sources?

 

Reece Andrews: That’s right. At the time a customer sets up a FieldNET Advisor field, data can be imported from other mapping tools, like the John Deere Operations Center. But a farmer can also enter data regarding the specific crop and hybrid they are growing and when they planted it. Then we add our weather data, which includes historical information as well as forecasts. We have GPS on our pivots, so we can provide exact information about where water has been applied. Those models run continuously, making adjustments dynamically and updating the irrigation plan. A lot of complex stuff happens, but we keep it simple for the users and turn it into actionable information for our growers. At the National Farm Machinery Show this year in Louisville, Kentucky, FieldNET Advisor on mobile devices won an AE50 award from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers for an outstanding innovation in products or services.

Joshua Dill: Do you have in-house software engineers who developed this program?

Reece Andrews: We do. A while ago, we kept seeing people in the industry being crushed by obsolescence and dependent on third parties for their software. In 2007, we decided that
if we were going to do this, we wanted to do it right. We wanted to have control over our own destiny. So we have hardware engineers, firmware engineers, software engineers, and agronomists on staff. We develop our own wireless communication systems, irrigation control systems, and apps. That puts us in a good position to deliver the functionality and support our customers need and expect.

Joshua Dill: Is FieldNET Advisor out on the fields right now?

Reece Andrews: It is. We released FieldNET Advisor for corn and soybeans 2 years ago, during the growing season of 2017. This last growing season, we added 20 additional crops as well as several enhancements. We’re going into season 3 and adding more crop models and enhancements.

Joshua Dill: What have the results been like?

Reece Andrews: The results have been really good. One of the first big case studies we did was on corn. We were able to show a 17 percent savings in both water and pumping costs, as well as a 3 percent increase in revenue on that field. Some of the new case studies that haven’t been published yet are showing even better results. We have also documented results from precision VRI plans and have seen some huge double- digit yield increases. FieldNET Advisor, which only costs $450 per year, easily pays for itself.

Another benefit is ease of use. There are tools that people don’t use just because they’re so complicated. In theory, they can create savings, but if people don’t know how to use them, or if they misuse them, they either gain nothing or end up with negative results. I pride myself on having focused on ease of use for years.

Lastly, I think FieldNET Advisor’s innovative design is a game changer. It allows a farmer to reduce or eliminate a lot of peripheral equipment that otherwise adds complexity and maintenance. With our system, a farmer doesn’t needto use moisture probes. Of course, they could use them as a check and balance, just to increase their confidence in our system, especially when getting started. But results show that our models are good enough that they don’t require those additional tools, which are expensive and require constant attention and maintenance. We’re seeing this with our customers right now: Simply because they trust our data so much, they are weaning themselves off of some of that extra equipment.

Joshua Dill: Please tell us about Pivot Watch.

Reece Andrews: Pivot Watch is an ultra-low-cost pivot monitoring solution. It’s the latest addition to FieldNET’s aftermarket solutions. In 2015, we released a product called FieldNET Pivot Control. Since then, everybody’s tried to copy it! With Pivot Control, growers can put a small programmable controller on any pivot. It ties
into the equipment’s original pivot controller to get power and essentially takes over control. The list price is around $1,595. We also have a Pivot Control Lite product, which has a little bit less control but only costs $995. These devices report information about where the pivot is and how much it is irrigating to the FieldNET platform. Taking it to the next level, growers can then use FieldNET Advisor to help develop a better VRI prescription.

In order to help make FieldNET Advisor even more accessible, we decided to develop something near the
$299 starting price point. That is Pivot Watch. Pivot Watch is truly a universal pivot monitor. Unlike Pivot Control, it does not control a pivot, it just monitors it. The low price point removes cost barriers that until now have prevented many growers from taking advantage of the benefits of pivot telemetry—benefits like knowing that 20 minutes after they left a field, the pivot got stuck and is sitting there irrigating in one spot—something that could damage that area’s yield potential for the rest of the season.

Pivot Watch can be held in the palm of one’s hand and is simple in terms of design. It has a solar panel and a battery. It is not electrically installed, so our dealers can literally sell these over the counter and the grower can go strap it onto the pivot. The monitor can tell when the pivot starts running because it can sense the pivot moving. It reports when the pivot is running or not and whether it’s got water or not. It also has GPS built into it to know pivot position in the field. It works with pivots of any age or brand, even nonelectric pivots like hydraulic pivots.

We are getting tremendous feedback from our beta testing customers. We are in the process of releasing Pivot Watch to the market right now. While remote monitoring in itself is a useful function, we’re confident farmers will see the value in the remote control capabilities FieldNET offers and eventually decide to upgrade to full control.

Joshua Dill: What is the current penetration of remote management tools like Pivot Control and Pivot Watch?

Reece Andrews: We think around one-third of pivots in North America today use remote telemetry. That means that there are a lot of pivots that are not being monitored and a lot of opportunities to help growers be more efficient.

Joshua Dill: Would you tell us about your vision for the future for Lindsay?

Reece Andrews: We have the industry-leading platform and a solid foundation to continually develop innovations like FieldNET Advisor. Now we’re building on that with new services and partnerships that help a grower’s bottom line. We’re going to continue to expand and enhance irrigation, fertigation, and analytics to help growers become more efficient. The growers are trying to get more out of the water they apply through their center pivots, because land expansion is a constraint. All our software tools and decision-support tools are helping them do that.

 

Reece Andrews leads Lindsay Corporation’s remote irrigation management and irrigation controls development. He can be reached at reece.andrews@lindsay.com.