By Eric Meliton
Challenges to maintain ‘best in the world’ status
Known for the “best potatoes in the world,” the state of Idaho generates approximately $4 billion in annual agricultural revenue (according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2017). The crop basin surrounding the Snake River has a diverse range of agricultural commodities and specialized crops, including a burgeoning livestock portfolio. The area generates approximately 29 percent of potato production in the U.S. The success of these yields relies heavily on the effectiveness of scalable farming practices, soil chemistry, and maximization of water resources.
The Snake River Valley basin has recently fallen victim to outdated farm practices resulting in runoff management issues and variable soil chemistry. Agricultural runoff has resulted in regional source water concerns, contributing to challenging soil conditions and therefore lower crop yields in recent years. The need for effective chemical injection to mitigate these source water concerns is an ongoing issue.
To overcome these challenges, agricultural trailblazer Crop Production Services Inc. (CPS) partnered with leading Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions firm AMI Global to provide customized technology to farmers of the Snake River Valley basin.
CPS, a subsidiary of Agrium Inc., is focused on providing technology to the agricultural sector that minimizes environmental impact while also boosting effective growing methods. AMI Global specializes in IIoT systems focused on fluid management applications. By coupling the regional needs of CPS’ clientele with AMI Global’s customized IIoT technology, an effective solution was created that addressed soil adsorption issues and water penetration. More specifically, the effective collaboration between of CPS and AMI Global’s IIoT solutions reduced site runoff challenges, maximized water penetration, and saved farmers’ operational dollars stemming from rising energy, water use, and labor costs.
Customization is key for solving various problems
The maximization of agricultural crop yields continues to rely on a mix of science and technology, historical knowledge, and effective labor. At the heart of the Snake River Valley basin, this ongoing convergence abounds. Maintenance of soil chemistry, technical labor requirements (manual pH adjustments and ongoing field monitoring) at multiple farming sites, and large irrigation footprints creating stress on the regional source water are all factors that impact crop yields and operational costs.
The IIoT customization offered by AMI Global to CPS clients and field managers allowed them to develop remote monitoring capabilities, displace technical labor intensification, and significantly decrease water volumes by achieving more effective water penetration. In turn, energy costs for pumping and irrigation and runoff management dramatically improved.
Without customization, these converging variables would continue to cause headaches for regional production yields, while continuing to run operations at less than peak efficiency or effectiveness.
Operational efficiency is key for CPS-AMI collaboration
Regional CPS Production Supervisor Brett Harrison expressed that the clientele of the Snake River Valley basin focused on water penetration as the driving factor behind farmers’ adoption of these customized systems. As regional supervisor, Harrison is responsible for over 90 sites and approximately 20,000 acres for which CPS’ portfolio is matched with AMI’s injection systems. He believes that operational efficiency (and the direct impact to the overall bottom line by approximately 10 to 25 percent regional crop yield increases) has resonated with “old school” farming practices, resulting in a greater buy-in towards the convergence of science, technology, and agricultural knowledge. Key features of the customized systems developed for CPS by AMI Global include automated and adjustable injection pH controls, customized soil penetration parameters for nutrients and water, and an ability to conduct real-time, mobile-based monitoring of sites and farm fields, reducing the need for on-site inspection and manual adjustments of systems.
Harrison opines: “It’s not only about reducing water runoff, but increasing water penetration. By neutralizing and/or acidifying our groundwater/river water pH, we are reducing the amount of water needed per acre for each watering, but also neutralizing bicarbonites and allowing what would have been less available nutrients in the soil to be un-tied from soil particles — allowing for better uptake into the plant.”
The ability to conduct autonomous adjustments based on real-time data troubleshooting allows technical labor to focus on other challenges while reducing the need for ongoing inspections. Additionally, the ability to potentially reduce the volume of water required and effectively manage the chemicals and nutrients applied to crops has a further lasting effect in the region. Although not every farm practice has changed, Harrison believes the business case for this type of IIoT customization will continue to be attractive to agricultural production managers wanting to continue to increase margins given the positive byproduct experienced around water resource maximization, effective water penetration, and reducing the overall stress in the Snake River Valley basin.
According to Harrison, “A majority of nutrients are at their peak availability around the 6.0 to 6.5 pH range, while the water we are dealing with is in the 7.5 to 8.5 pH range. So by using N-pHuric in conjunction with AMI Global’s injection equipment, it allows us to be more efficient in water and fertilizer application, therefore increasing yields by creating a better growing environment for the plants root system.”
Service quality enhances technical expertise
Executive Vice President Terrence O’Leary noted that working with regional clients from the Snake River Valley basin through CPS’ client portfolio gave AMI Global full access to address a wide range of industry relevant challenges. Ongoing customization and adaptation of the IIoT solutions offered to CPS clientele resulted in an effective solution for the Snake River Valley basin, but would also allow CPS to address long-term issues such as continued water stress in other challenging sites they manage.
By finding ways to reduce the energy requirements for irrigation and pumping, maximize real-time nutrient control for effective soil chemistry, and reduce freshwater volume requirements for crop yield maximization, the regional examples established by AMI Global and CPS could be useful in other parts of North America, as these challenges are universal to the overall agricultural industry.
Specific to the Snake River Valley basin, the ongoing growth of the agricultural sector and the need to maintain volume production of the “best potatoes in the world” has a price. Despite these efforts, there is a greater need to manage regional runoff and maximize water use, as increased regulatory and extraction sanctions may impact the sector long-term.
With an ongoing need for adaptation to changing environmental conditions, the balance between effective water management holds true regionally and in other North American agricultural production areas. In time, the need for effective customization of IIoT may no longer be considered as a means to maximize margins and return on investment, but as a way to effectively mitigate the challenges of our continued resource demands by this sector.