Irrigation Decision Support from Outer Space

Manna offers irrigation intelligence solutions to help growers decide when and how much to irrigate
October 16, 2019
Irrigation Decision Support from Outer Space (Enlarge)

 
World Food Day is an opportunity to raise consciousness about the challenge facing all humanity: maximizing food production while reducing the resources invested. Manna seeks to meet this challenge, by striving to develop a solution that contributes to efficient water usage in irrigation.
Hovav Lapidot, Manna's marketing director, relates: "We see the increased demand for efficient water usage solutions generally, and our system in particular is recognized where irrigation is critical to crop development, and water availability is declining due to climate changes."
Manna Irrigation was established by Rivulis Irrigation three and a half years ago, and offers irrigation intelligence solutions to help growers decide when and how much to irrigate. The benefit is improved water use efficiency (WUE).

The company is located at Kibbutz Gvat in the Jezreel Valley, and it was based on an acquisition of Israel's leading precision ag company Agam Advanced Agronomy. Manna used the body of research and knowledge gathered by Agam in its 10 years of operation to build a system that provides an irrigation-centered solution.
Manna's system includes software only, without sensors or hardware in the field, and therefore is easily adopted by users. Its  goal is to support the farmer's decisions: when and how much to irrigate, without the need for physical contact with the soil or the plant.

According to Hovav, "The idea is to avoid the hassle of installation and maintenance of delicate devices in the field, and at the same time get a reading of the entire field rather than from only one or two points.
The system relies on satellite imagery analysis combined with precise meteorological data and agronomy models:  Satellite images are received from three different satellite systems, once every 3-5 days. The Manna system analyzes the satellite data to determine the exact and current crop conditions – vegetation vigor, water potential and more. Weather data is based on a virtual-station, hyper-local weather service that provides historic, current and forecast conditions at the farm level. The agronomy models are adapted to each crop (currently supporting about 50 crops) and geographic location. The system combines all  these factors in parameters of the soil and irrigation system, and provides precise and dynamic irrigation recommendations.
In addition to recommending how much and when to irrigate, the farmer also receives the satellite images presented as colored maps, indicating vegetation density, plant wetness levels and even  areas that the system suspects might  suffer from various problems and mishaps, such as irrigation system malfunctions or even crop protection and nutrition problems.

The value to the grower is measured by water use efficiency: crop yield per required water quantity. Hovav notes: "You can call it Return on Water. Based on  all the observations we made in various locations worldwide on various crops, we have seen at least a 10% improvement in water use efficiency – increase in  crop yield received from the same amount of water, or the yield remained stable even though the amount of irrigation was reduced. Customers note that the system is their trusted irrigation counselor, helping them to make decisions and warning them of malfunctions."

Manna’s vision is to make irrigation intelligence accessible to farmers worldwide – from the rural farmer in India to giant firms in California – and therefore the system they offer must be user friendly and require minimal data inputs from the user. Hovav added "You don't have to be an agronomist to operate it or a techie to understand the data it presents".
Another factor for a solution to become globally adopted is obviously price and simplicity of the business model. Manna found that the best way is via on-line software service: growers  just purchase an annual software subscription, easily enter   their crop data and within minutes receive images and recommendations. In recent months the system has been available for self-registration on-line, including a free trial period;
In an effort to expand the company's service and market reach, Manna has acquired the activity of "Agricam" this past summer.  Agricam is a software and remote sensing startup company that provides growers with critical information for their daily crop management decisions. This acquisition has elevated Manna to become the largest satellite imagery provider in Israel’s ag market. Hovav: "We believe that having  the best experts in remote sensing work together will enable us to provide better service to farmers, and to enhance our capabilities such as automatic identification of issues using artificial intelligence." The added value Manna hopes to get from this acquisition is both the expansion of client base as well as additional agricultural information to help build its models and improve analysis of field anomalies.
To summarize, Hovav states: "with every season completed, the data collected and the feedback gathered from users – our confidence in the irrigation intelligence approach grows. It may sound like science fiction to some, but I can easily see how the old questions of how much and when to irrigate crops, to achieve optimal yield, water use efficiency and sustainability are problems of the past. Every grower in the world has direct access to personalized and affordable irrigation intelligence in the palm of their hand, which they use daily for optimized and confident irrigation decisions. Written protocols will be gone like the phone books and in-field sensing hardware will be obsolete the same way we gave up on phone booths in the street…”

 

This article was published in the special issue for FWD 2019

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