Cell phone-based technology is saving Stan Jones dollars, miles and, importantly, a lot of hours he'd otherwise be spending during the growing season checking on irrigation pumps.
The Walnut Ridge, Ark., producer who had 5,000 acres of rice and 2,000 acres of soybeans last year, 100 percent irrigated, uses 40 pumping units to water all those fields. Additionally, he has five 10,000-gallon per minute relift systems moving river water to several large fields, including one that's 700 acres.
“I was spending three and a half hours each day just driving around to check on pump motors,” he said at the ninth annual Conservation Systems Cotton and Rice Conference at Robinsonville, Miss. “Sometimes I'd make three trips a day. That's a lot of miles.”
Last year, he installed electronic monitoring systems on two pumping units “at a very remote distance from my house.” The units, from Izon Agricultural Marketing Systems, Paragould, Ark., constantly monitor the engine and water flow. If the engine shuts down for any reason, an immediate text message is sent to Jones' cell phone (the notification can also go to a pager or computer).
“It works so well,” he laughs, “that last year, while I was attending a Cardinals baseball game in St. Louis, I got a message on my cell phone that a pump was down. I phoned home from the stadium and within two hours a broken fan belt had been replaced and the pump was running again.
“It's like having someone standing by that pump 24 hours a day and letting me know the minute something goes wrong,” says Jones, who was so impressed with the systems' performance that he plans to install them on every pump this season.
“It's important to me to know what a pump's doing. If it shuts down for any reason, I need to know it right now.”
In addition to advising of shutdowns, a sensor that notifies when fuel is low can be added to the system.
“I don't want an engine shutting down because it's out of fuel. When the fuel level gets to 100 gallons, the sensor sends a ‘low fuel’ text message, along with the location of the well. I know I've got 30 hours to get more fuel in that tank and keep the pump from shutting down.”
Jones says the units can be configured to periodically report that pumps are operating normally, “but mine is set up so I only get a message when something happens.”
In addition to reducing the number of trips to check on pumps, Jones says, the system helps him to make more rapid repairs and reduce downtime, which lessens problems that occur from losing a head of water and then getting the field covered again.
The system can also shut down pumps remotely — and with electric motors, can also turn them on. But Jones doesn't use the feature on his turbocharged diesel engines because “it's hard on them when they shut down.”
Using the Internal Revenue Service mileage allowance, he figures he saved $3,156 in travel miles alone last season, “so I almost got back all the money I spent on the systems.”
But even more valuable to him was the time saved.
“I do my own spraying, and I figure the hours I saved by not making all those trips allowed me to spend time on the sprayer that was worth $84,000.”
The monitoring systems are “a great management tool that has helped my production and saved me a lot of miles, hours, headaches, and money.
“I've always been open to new ideas and new technology, but there's so much technology available today it's sometimes hard to decide on something that is worthwhile. But after one year of operation with this system, I know what it can do and I have confidence in it. It's pretty awesome.”
Jones, who's been farming for 32 years, was one of the first producers in his area to adopt no-till for rice. “I've been doing it for 20 years now, and it has brought significant reductions in production costs. Land in our area can make 200-bushel rice, but I don't know a farmer who made money last year, and I could probably count on one hand all those who managed to break even.”
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