Innovation in Irrigation

Agriculture technology has attracted a lot of attention in Silicon Valley, and a big part of the burgeoning startup scene focuses on using water more efficiently and effectively.

By Jeff Caldwell

<< See the story from FarmLife: “A Sinking Feeling: Saving the Ogallala”

There are about 670 million reasons the irrigation sector has become a huge part of the ag technology scene. According to the investment management platform AgFunder, that’s how many dollars in private equity funding were raised—just in 2015—by irrigation technology companies, many of them startups.

Water from the Ogallala Aquifer used for Irrigation.

Water from the Ogallala Aquifer used for Irrigation.

A huge step in the sector’s evolution came in 2010, when Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt started a program to fund ventures that applied new “disruptive” technology to established industries. One of the companies Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors program funded was CropX, an irrigation company whose systems deploy wireless sensors that collect soil data and help farmers apply irrigation water as efficiently as possible.

“Agriculture is currently in the early stage of a technological revolution in terms of innovating and leveraging the information-age tools to grow more food with less inputs and strain on the environment,” says Jocelyn Boudreau, CEO and cofounder of California-based precision irrigation technology company Hortau, in a company report. “We look forward to moving our agricultural Internet of Things platform into the mainstream.”

CropX, Hortau and companies like Memphis, Tennessee-based AgSmarts, another company that’s developed a system of sensors, mobile devices and real-time data tools that help farmers better manage irrigation, are players in a sector that’s growing rapidly.

“There is noticeable growth of smaller ag tech providers entering the market,” says AgSmarts digital strategist Susan Dalton on the company’s blog. “Businesses, big and small, are creating specialized hardware and better management tools to optimize farming operations. Drones, satellite imagery, field mapping, VRI, smart sensors, crop analytics, customized reporting … the list goes on.”

The next step in the evolution of irrigation technology lies in automation that will eventually help feed artificial intelligence systems and maximize the utility of every drop of irrigation water applied. “The next generation of AgSmarts technology will go beyond monitoring and reporting,” Dalton says in a company report. “The same stations will communicate with each other and irrigation equipment [and] provide the next level of irrigation automation. Today’s pioneers of AgTech are laying the foundation for a future of farming .”