The world is running out of water resources. The shortage will affect nearly all agricultural production around the globe in the near future. California Almond growers have suffered not only from water shortages in some growing areas which have led to smaller yields and lower quality – they have also been hit by a storm of accusations from activists who argue that the environmental impact on almond production is too high. Even if legislation has ruled in their favor there is no doubt that water has to be consumed more wisely to enable future growth and sustainability. As a consequence the Show Floor of the 2016 Almond Conference in Sacramento, California was packed with new solutions for water management and alternative energy solutions. The issue has inspired a variety of interesting solutions. The problem: Most of the systems are proprietary. They are not compatible with pumps or probes from other suppliers. It was time for a system that embraces existing technology and offers the comfort of controlling irrigation and fertigation on one platform. One of the few open systems available on the market is DropControl from WiseConn.
I talked to Mark Yoshimoto, marketing and sales director for the United States at WiseConn Engineering about DropControl: DropControl is a cloud-based system to access irrigation, soil moisture, weather and field conditions, in order to make decisions, and execute irrigation scheduling. It enables the user to know what´s happening in the field, and with the irrigation equipment, from anywhere, through the internet.
Axel Breuer: Please tell us about your solution.
Mark Yoshimoto: Our main product is DropControl for California, an online irrigation management system. Our main purpose is automation. We offer a reliable wireless automation system of pumps, valves, acid content management, injection pumps and we tie that all in one dashboard with telemetry. We’re an open open face platform so I can work with any software that’s also open with an open A.P.I. I can run pretty much any sensors – it can be a flow meter or pressure sensor or a sensor for soil moisture – we get all of your data bring it in the cloud from the field to the cloud and we put it on one dashboard.
Our system is web-based so you can either access all of your data or schedule your irrigation or fertigation online via phone or tablet or computer. We do have an android and IOs app where you can schedule and monitor the automated operation.
Axel Breuer: What is the benefit for the grower?
Mark Yoshimoto: The most important aspect using DropControl is to help growers save energy, labor and water. You don’t need your irrigation guy out there at three in the morning and for you to turn off your pumps. There’s no human error anymore. So there’s less labor involved.
Axel Breuer: How does the system work?
Mark Yoshimoto: For optimized irrigation we use soil moisture probes and we have our own methodology. We make sure that the soil moisture is perfect to a depth of around four feet. Beyond that we’re losing water. So our methodology is we want to water and maintain a healthy source and maintain that moisture in the ground but we don’t want to go past the four or five feet because after that you’re just wasting water and energy.
Axel Breuer: How much water can almond farmers save?
Mark Yoshimoto: We’ve seen anywhere from five to thirty five percent on water saving and energy savings. With our system we also increase and maximize yields. We are collaborating with different universities to constantly improve the system. For the olive orchard at Fresno State we’ve actually increased their yield in double digits.
Axel Breuer: And your system has just been introduced for almond production.
Mark Yoshimoto: Yes, we work with pretty much any commodities and pressurized systems. We sell probes and other sensors out there but we usually mostly do pressurized systems because we are traditionally big in automation. But we also work with grow crops, pistachios, citrus, stone fruit.
Axel Breuer: I heard of a pretty interesting way of saving water by a grower which he calls Pulse Irrigation. Can you tell me about this?
Mark Yoshimoto: Pulse irrigation is the opposite of running long duration irrgations – say five to ten hours straight our twenty-four hours straight. If your soil is really sandy it does not make sense to irrigate for a long time. It just seeps through and you’re losing all that water. Almond grower Tom Rogers for instance has been irrigating six times a day for just thirty minutes and he’s maintaining his soil moisture at the level that he wanted to be without losing and losing energy and water. We also get a lot of data about what the growers use as a kind of a really good strategy.
Axel Breuer: So you actually gather a lot of valuable data about soil management. Do you use the data the system acquires from your clients to consult other growers?
Mark Yoshimoto: We don’t actually tell the grower what to do but we show them the data and we help set the software up to what they would like to see and what suits them.
Axel Breuer: What do you think where the future is going terms of saving water?
Mark Yoshimoto: There’s new sensors and there’s new software popping up every day and it’s going to be like that for a while. We’re in the twenty-first century and our platform is open to adapt to all new technologies. The water issue will get more important every year – especially in California. We’re in the drought right now we need to save more water to make the industry sustainable for the future. Our system also helps to comply with new regulation. I can put a sensor in the ground and actually prove that we’re not leeching fertilizer to the ground water.
What are we talking about in terms of investment and return on investment for the system?
Mark Yoshimoto: In most cases we our growers experience the return on investment anywhere from six months to three years.
Axel Breuer: Where does the technology come from?
Mark Yoshimoto: We’re based out of Chile. Our company has been around for eleven years. At the moment we are focusing on markets where the need for water management is high and the mindset for technological improvements is right. We see a lot of potential in the US: Currently only about one to two percent of growers are actually using automation in the United States.
Axel Breuer: Thank you very much.