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Capitalizing on Free Variable-Rate Irrigation Feature

When Scott Gaites installed the first controller on a center pivot unit nearly five years ago, the goal was to attain 24-hour monitoring and control through his cell phone.

That first pivot, in particular, was especially hard to access, explains Gaites, who farms nine pivots near Stapleton, Nebraska. He figured the reduced wear and tear on his pickup alone would make up for some of the expense. 

What he discovered later, though, was that the Pivot Control modification also provided him with the ability to implement a variable-rate irrigation (VRI) plan at no additional charge. Introduced shortly before Gaites installed the first unit, Pivot Control by FieldNET is a retrofit controller from Lindsay Irrigation that can be installed on almost any existing electric pivot brand so they can be controlled remotely through a single platform and cell phone app. 

More recently, Valley introduced the ICONX Smart Panel, which does the same thing. Once installed, ICONX takes control of the existing center pivot panel, no matter the pivot brand, to deliver full touch control through a single network via AgSense or Valley BaseStation3.

Gaites discovered that the beauty of both Pivot Control by FieldNET and ICONX is that sector-based variable-rate irrigation control is incorporated into the systems and that no additional hardware is needed to upload prescriptions. Once it’s entered, the VRI prescription simply speeds up or slows down the pivot to achieve the desired application rate across each sector (wedge) in the field.

“I already had two newer pivots with smart panels that allowed remote control,” Gaites says. “So when Pivot Control came out, my dealer also wanted to retrofit a Valley pivot that was close to his dealership so he could see how Pivot Control worked on another brand before he started pushing it,” he adds, noting that he has a mix of Zimmatic, Valley, and Reinke pivots. “Since then, I’ve put in Pivot Control. The remaining pivot is right next to the house, so I haven’t converted it yet.” 

In the meantime, Gaites insists that being able to control all nine pivots with his cell phone “has been a lifesaver.” Not only does it allow him to start one or more pivots from anywhere at any time, but also he can shut off all nine of them if it rains.

VRI payoff

As icing on the cake, though, Gaites says he was “punching buttons” on the computer about three years ago when he discovered the system’s VRI capabilities. Since then, he’s been utilizing a variable-rate irrigation plan on at least three of the pivots. 

“I have one field with a sandy hill on part of the circle,” he says. “So I have it set up to put about an inch of water per revolution on the hill and a half inch on the rest of the circle.”

Another field has a low bottom with heavier soil that runs across the middle of the circle. That area receives an irrigation prescription that puts about one-third inch of water on the bottomland and just over two-thirds inch on sidehills. The lower rate on the sidehills (compared with applying a full inch in one application) was prescribed to avoid runoff. As a result, “I’m saving about a half inch of water per revolution, and the pivot is making the circle in less time. Yet, the yield maps haven’t shown any yield loss,” Gaites explains.

Even without the VRI capabilities, though, Gaites insists he wouldn’t go back to driving to each pivot control box and visually checking each field. For him, the ability to vary water application in different parts of the field, using the same system, is just icing on the cake. 

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