“In 2018, Hortau will be launching a new Irrigation Management and scheduling service as part of its ongoing effort to help growers succeed and get the most out of its irrigation management technology. This service will provide boots on the ground irrigation advisors as part of their standard offering in the Central Valley of California. Contact us to learn more and read bellow to find out how this service came about.”
– Benjamin Smith, Grower Support Manager at Hortau.
“Big Data” has been a buzzword for a few years now. The marriage of wireless communication and innumerable sensors have given birth to IoT, the Internet of Things, which in turn is pumping out data at a rate of 30 trillion bytes per second. From oil rigs to airplanes, through cell phones, tractors, and even racecars, data is streaming from all around us. Surprisingly, with so much tech deployed, and so many sensors reporting accurate data, investments into some big data companies has waned somewhat this year.
It comes down to two causes really. First, too often the data isn’t relevant. We can measure almost anything we want. But what use is it after it is measured? If it doesn’t lead to progressive change, it is just wasting bytes. Second, is anyone or anything looking at the data? Data is only as good as its analysis. Perhaps our data reporting is a little ahead of our ability to use the data.
Raw data comes to us in a useless form, without context or pattern until somehow it is analyzed and turned into answers. There aren’t enough human brains in the world to analyze the torrent of 30 trillion bytes coming in per second, and although AI is progressing in incredible ways, it is still a work in progress that requires a lot of human interaction to be of use.
As a major player in the Ag industry’s IoT and as a significant contributor to the vast production of data, Hortau has juggled its own balance of data mass and usefulness over the years as it has worked to understand the use of its own product and the practical application of the data it provides. Here is a little history of where we have been.
Big Data Before it was Big
Hortau was founded in 2002 as a result of intensive plant water stress research that led to the development of a new sensor, one that accurately measures and reports the difficulty a plant experiences in removing water from the soil. At that time, flip phones with tri-color screens were the biggest innovation of mention and wireless communication was still in its infancy.
When Hortau first went to market in 2002, the real product being sold was equipment. At the time, when a grower purchased the product, they would receive the devices that they would have to assemble, install, operate, and interpret on their own. The data the sensor provided was gold, but the transmission of that data was a little unreliable, especially when calloused fingers used to working with horsepower and hydraulics were expected to work on hertz and hardware.
It wasn’t long before Hortau realized that the average farmer, even the average progressive farmer, did not have the time nor the interest to properly maintain the soil tension monitoring equipment. Little by little we added service to the product offering so that our skilled and specialized technicians could maintain the equipment and keep it in top working order.
Specialization and Progression
The value of having our own employees out working with the equipment was greater than expected. Not only did the equipment work better, but the experiences the technicians had day after day were fed back into the further development of the product, leading to more robust, durable equipment and better practices.
With our own experimentation and very proactive growers we saw an undeniable benefit to using soil tension to manage irrigation. However, despite the increased reliability and better usability through a better online user interface, we were still confused as to why we did not have a greater percentage of our customers continuously using the data and reaping the benefit that we have so often seen.
In 2015, Hortau added a new division to the company, Grower Support Specialists. The idea was to provide yet another layer of service. The Grower Support Specialist’s role was to focus on teaching our growers how to use the data to make real-time irrigation decisions and to fully realize the benefit of using real-time soil tension data to reduce stress and maximize the performance of their crops. The Grower Support Division experienced great success. Our customers now understand the meaning of the data, and feel confident in making better decisions. All across the board we have seen much more satisfaction with our products.
The technology is being accepted. We are having huge success as growers are more aware of the irrigation and are able to make better decisions. However, the average farm size is increasing, regulations are getting heavier for farm operations to bear. Labor, both skilled and unskilled, is getting difficult to find, and all of this means that farm managers have more and more to do each day and week. It can quickly become difficult for them to attend to everything that draws on their attention; especially when some of those duties require specialized training or experience.
In response to farm managers’ need to have some things taken off their plate, Hortau is unveiling a way to make strategic, intelligent irrigation decisions without requiring so much of the farm manager’s time as it has in the past.
In late summer 2017, Hortau launched a trial program; Irrigation Management and Scheduling. In this program, the answers that have to be caressed out of the data come without having to work through the time-consuming process of analyzing tension graphs.
Corporate knowledge and the individual experience of Hortau’s employees has led to incredible proficiency in interpreting, analyzing, and presenting key information attained through analyzing the data Hortau provides. Furthermore, working outside of the farming operation, Hortau Irrigation Advisors are not limited by the many duties farm managers and workers are performing each day.
The essence of the irrigation advisor service is the irrigation schedule. Each advisor, aided by AI technology creates a weekly irrigation schedule that when followed, keeps the soil tension in the optimal zone for maximum production. As the advisor creates the irrigation schedule, he/she evaluates the performance of past irrigations and the crop’s reaction and adjusts accordingly. The schedule is provided each week by the advisor and discussed as needed with individuals on the operation that need the information.
Without any significant time requirements on the part of the farm employees, they receive the basic information need, analyzed and processed, to achieve all the benefits available in using the Hortau system. Furthermore, the advisor spends time on the ranch each week, investigating discrepancies, and irrigation issues on the farm, such as poor infiltration.
Over the course of a season, the advisor inspects irrigation systems, including filters and other components to evaluate the system health and provide details to increase efficiency and distribution uniformity. Over time, as we further develop the program and continue developing AI, additional measures will be added to further analyze the performance of each farm’s irrigation system and to provide methods to increase productivity.
Despite the success Hortau’s Grower Support division has had, the limiting factor we have experienced is the amount of work required of each grower support. In charging a little more to provide advisor and scheduling services, we are able to limit the total amount of acres each advisor covers to ensure that each customer gets personalized, detailed support.
The ag industry is very familiar and comfortable with hiring pest control specialists, such as PCA’s, and nutrition specialists, such as CCA’s, to help them manage technical aspects of their operation. However, the ag industry has failed in providing sufficient irrigation specialists to meet the needs of growers.
Hortau is committed to developing individuals through grinding elbow grease and technology into proficient, talented irrigation specialists that will be an undisputed asset to your operation. Irrigation Advisors are the missing link to this segment of the big data industry’s data flood, and the answer to each farm’s quest for improvement.
Beginning the 2018 season, Hortau’s irrigation service will provide irrigation advisors as part of their standard offering in the Central Valley of California. Availability may be limited by the number of advisors available. Sign up while there is room available.
Want to learn more about Hortau’s Irrigation Management and Scheduling Service? Contact us below to set up a free consultation.