Vineyard irrigation practices have come a long way in the last half-century. From the way we transport water to how we measure its flow, irrigation technologies are becoming more affordable, more efficient, and more practical. In this post, we’ll examine irrigation technologies for both system operation and for system feedback.
Modern Technology for Improved Vineyard Irrigation
As graceful and picturesque as the windmills of the Dutch countryside may be, we no longer need to rely on environmental conditions, like wind, in order to pump water from the source to our planted fields. Likewise, we’re moving away from burning fossil fuels to power pumps. Your grandparents’ dinosaur diesel pump may have run great for 50 years, but it was loud, gassy, and increasingly costly to operate.
Electric pumps are now commonplace, and if you need to install a new pump, you’ll find that you will have a number of options, from the type of pump to its power source. Common pump types for commercial agriculture include:
- Centrifugal pumps, used to pump water from reservoirs, lakes, streams, and shallow wells
- Deep-well turbine pumps, used for cased wells or when the water surface is at a depth beyond the limit of a centrifugal pump
- Submersible pumps, which are turbine pumps that are used in tandem with a submerged electric motor. Unlike turbine pumps, submersible pumps push water up rather than pull it up
- Propeller pumps, used for low lift, high flow-rate conditions. They can be placed on a trailer or pontoons and moved as required
All of these pumps require varying levels of power, depending on the type, size, and horsepower. Standard pumps run on AC (alternating current) from the power grid, but solar-powered pumps are increasingly available. However, like anything dependent on environmental factors, a solar-powered pump will rely on the availability of sunlight. A few gray days could render your pump temporarily inoperable, so they’re best used on farms that don’t irrigate with regularity.
The pump is responsible for moving water from the source to your irrigation system, but that doesn’t mean that it will regulate pressure throughout your system for smooth and sound operation. Historically, that required human input and knowledge of the system (i.e. the minimum and maximum number of plant blocks that can be irrigated at the same time to maintain appropriate pressure). That left a lot of room for error, which can be extremely costly in water resources and system damage.
Using variable frequency devices (VFDs) is a proven way to reduce the margin of error and increase efficiency. VFDs are electronic controllers that vary the speed of the pump motor in response to system demand. Because pump motors operate at a single speed, they may under or over-power the irrigation system as demand fluctuates and pressure changes. VFDs automatically regulate fluctuations in water flow and pressure. VFDs also yield more efficient energy use. Studies have shown that VFDs “can effectively reduce energy costs, decrease electrical system stress, and extend the life of a pump.”
As vineyard irrigation systems become increasingly mechanized, another common component is electronic valve operation. Solenoid valves are affordable, relatively easy to install throughout an irrigation system, and require little power. Simple but nifty mechanisms, solenoid valves use electromagnetism to move a plunger to open or close the valve. They can be controlled electronically, and even remotely, from a smartphone or computer when connected to a telemetry system.
Feedback Sensors for Smarter Farming
If you’ve invested in a new or updated irrigation system, chances are you’d like to know that it’s working properly. Feedback sensors are essential tools for monitoring system functions. They can also help you collect data over time, enabling you to examine trends and make better irrigating decisions in the future. There are three common types of basic feedback sensors for irrigation systems: pressure switches, pressure transducers, and flowmeters.
Pressure switches are the most basic feedback sensors for irrigation systems. They indicate if there is or isn’t pressure at a specific location in the system, but they do not indicate how much pressure exists. As pressure increases or decreases past a specific parameter, a spring and piston flip a micro-switch to an open or closed position. The switch sends an electronic signal to indicate whether there is or isn’t pressure, depending on whether the switch is open or closed.
Pressure transducers are the next step up and are slightly more costly. However, they provide more specific pressure feedback from the irrigation system. Like pressure switches, they’re installed at specific locations within the system. Pressure transducers contain a diaphragm that’s deflected by fluid pressure. A transduction element converts the deflection to an electrical output signal that will increase or decrease proportionally as pressure changes. The electrical signal is calibrated within specific parameters to indicate the amount of pressure. Essentially, pressure transducers act like an analog pressure gauge, but they can be read remotely and their data can be recorded in monitoring systems.
Flowmeters measure the rate of flow, rather than pressure. They are significantly more expensive and require greater expertise to install, but they yield accurate data in real time and are the best way to measure a system’s water use over time. These devices use magnetic coils and electrodes to measure voltage as water – the conductor – moves through the magnetic field. That measurement is proportional to velocity, which can be determined with a calibration. Like pressure switches and pressure transducers, flowmeters can be connected to a remote monitoring system for data at the click of a button.
Better water use data from tools like these allows farmers to conserve resources while improving crop quality and yield. Irrigation systems that combine precise control and feedback mechanisms are our best bet for efficient farming in a changing world.
At Lumo, we believe that every drop counts when conserving our most important natural resource – water. As a result, we have developed a smart irrigation system that helps you automate and track your water usage using a combination of the technologies mentioned above, built into an easily deployable solution. Contact us today to learn how we can make your irrigation effortless and more efficient.