Improving Farm Labor Efficiency through Technology

Precision agriculture has come a long way in the past decade. From the wide-scale adoption of drip systems to advances sensors available at the push of a button – it’s happening. But when it comes to technologies that can completely eliminate the human element in agriculture, there’s still work to be done.

A recent article on Agfunder.com summarized how the decline in foreign farm workers over the last five years has fueled innovations in the agtech sector to help farmers cope with the steady decline in qualified workers in order to help keep their operations profitable and productive.

Unfortunately, according to that article, many prototypes for robotic harvesting equipment are still facing challenges in standing up to the rigorous demands of commercial agriculture, nor have they been able to replace the human element necessary to properly handle and correctly discern what produce will be marketable on store shelves.

While robotic harvesting in agriculture will likely continue to be the holy grail of agtech companies over the next decade, there are already proven technologies available that can help growers firm up the bottom line and streamline operations by reducing ancillary input costs such as fuel, water and fertilizers, and allow existing labor to focus on other areas of the business — all while enhancing crop productivity and health.

“Technology that is coming into our industry will make it so we don’t need as many people and will make it so we don’t need as many people and will make their job functions easier, and will make them more productive,” Tom Nunes, V, vice president of operations at Nunes Vegetables in Salinas, Calif. told Growing Produce last month.

While some of these agtech companies are just coming into the fold, others, such as Hortau, have been working to improve farm efficiency — which can help improve labor productivity — for more than 15 years.

Below are a few of the ways that growers are helping to reduce operation costs on the farm with Hortau, while freeing up workers to attend to other areas of the business.

Automation

  • Using data points such as soil tension levels or temperature to trigger irrigation ensures that irrigation equipment is only running on an as-needed basis, eliminating the need to travel to the field to irrigate manually,
  • Removes the potential for human error in over- or under-irrigating.
  • Remote start capabilities via cell phone or computer let staff focus on attending to other areas of the business without having to dedicate time to turning equipment on and off manually.

Sensors & Data

  • Real-time data allows growers to see what is happening before during and after an irrigation event without having to go to the field to observe, helping to reduce travel time.
  • Monitoring soil tension and keeping crops in the comfort zone ensures optimal crop health and eliminates the need to rely on in-field testing such as pressure bombs, which are often only reliable at certain times a day and catch crop stress after it has occurred.
  • Offset placement of tensiometers allows growers to observe vertical and lateral movement of water through the soil profile, ensuring even wetting patterns.
  • Graphs produced from data provide easy visuals — via mobile device or computer — of water movement through the soil profile, ensuring maximum nutrient uptake in the root zone, maximizing the longevity of nutrient application, while minimizing the potential for leaching.

Real-time Alerts

  • Growers and irrigators can set up real-time alerts that notify them via text message or phone call when temperatures reach crop-threatening thresholds, reducing the need for field workers to have to be on call at all hours to monitor field conditions.

Flow Meter Monitoring

  • With connectivity to Hortau field stations, flow meter monitoring eliminates the need for manual readings.
  • Easy-to-read flow meter data tells users exactly how much water has been moved, reducing the staff time needed to calculate water use figures and reports.

Installation, Training and Service

  • Hortau manufactures all of its products and installs, trains growers on the system, and services the system all year long.
  • Hortau embedded grower support helps connect irrigators to their technology, by providing an easy-to-follow irrigation schedule based on soil tension data.
  • Full agronomic support reduces the need for additional agronomic staff or contractors.

To learn more about using Hortau precision irrigation management to streamline your operation, contact us here or call 805-545-5994.