The global-smart irrigation market is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 15,2% from 2021 to 2030, according to Quince Market Insights. And remarkably, this is off an already a huge base: the market reached an estimated value of US$1,15 trillion (about R17,5 trillion) in 2021.
In its January 2022 global report, Quince Market Insights explains that the smart-irrigation market is being driven by efforts to promote water conservation; the expansion of smart cities; the demand for efficient irrigation systems; and the falling cost of sensors and controllers.
Smart-irrigation systems are data-driven, and are thus more efficient than conventional irrigation systems; sensors monitor water saturation of the soil and other parameters, and use this information to increase or decrease irrigation. The constant monitoring of soil and crop health also means that crop production can be optimised at lower cost.
According to Quince Market Insights, the leading players in the global smart-irrigation market don’t only market their products to farmers. As the demand for water efficiency spreads to urban areas, consumers in non-agricultural industries are also buying these systems.
As such, investment in the industry is expected to increase over the short and medium terms.
Here is a list of some of the top global and local industries likely to make a splash in 2022:
The Toro Company
The Toro Company (TTC) is a US-based company that specialises in “innovative solutions for the outdoor environment, including turf and landscape maintenance […] underground utility construction, rental and specialty construction, and irrigation and outdoor lighting solutions”, according to the TTC.
The company was founded in 1914 in Minnesota, and reported annual sales of US$3,61 billion (R54,9 billion) in 2021. Approximately 11% of this is attributed to sales in irrigation. TTC operates in 125 countries, but is not present in South Africa at the moment.
TTC specialises in drip tape, sensors and controllers. The company says its innovative technologies allow for a substantial saving of water and energy. Its drip tape, FlowControl, for example, is described as “the latest advancement in precision drip irrigation”, and is the only flow-regulating drip tape available. “The innovative flow-regulating design provides you with the flexibility to increase or decrease flow while maintaining a uniform output across changing elevations.”
Rain Bird, founded in 1933, is based in California, US. The company is privately owned and, like TTC, prides itself on offering a range of services to various industries. However, Rain Bird has a particular focus on agriculture, according to the company, and offers the industry’s “broadest range of irrigation products”.
It operates across 130 countries, and is present in South Africa. Rain Bird’s horizontal action impact drive sprinkler was the first of its kind, and was named a “historic landmark” in 1990 by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers for its impact on food production. Like other smart-irrigation companies, Rain Bird offers water-efficient solutions to irrigation.
The company’s flow-indicating basket filter product line helps farmers install and maintain flow measurement, filtration and integrated pressure regulation. This provides “easy visual monitoring of irrigation system changes over time”, according to Rain Bird.
“A dial at the top of the filter cap provides diagnostic information about the zone’s operation, saving time and simplifying maintenance.”
Netafim has become a well-known name in the industry over the past few years, largely due to its continual product development. The company’s range covers a wide spectrum of irrigation solutions, including precision agriculture equipment.
Netafim was established in 1965, and has its headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel. Its products are traded in South Africa. Some of its newest technology includes the NetBow, a multi-outlet arc-shaped dripper developed to address the needs of high-value, soilless, container-irrigated crops, such as blueberries and cannabis. It’s available as a 12cm-diameter model containing four dripper outlets, or a 25cm-diameter model containing eight dripper outlets.
The flow from each outlet is determined by the hub dripper, divided evenly by eight or four, depending on the model. The flow rate of the hub dripper is between 2ℓ/hour to 8ℓ/hour.
“The main advantage of the technology is that it wets the medium uniformly from top
to bottom. Roots develop in every square centimetre of the container, including the top layer, allowing crops to reach their full productive potential,” says Willem Smit, sales manager for Netafim South Africa’s southern region.
He adds that NetBow is easy to install and operate, always in place and can be connected to a variety of dripper lines.
HydroPoint Data Systems
Hydropoint Data Systems (HDS) specialises in water-use efficiency. It was founded in 2002
and has its headquarters in California, US. Its product line consists of hardware, including controllers and flow sensors, as well as its data analysis software, which enables farmers to monitor and control irrigation remotely.
The software also takes into account information about the weather to make more accurate predictions, according to the company. HDS is not available in South Africa at present.
AGRICO, a South African company, produces a range of irrigation equipment and smart-irrigation solutions. As it was then known, Paul Andrag and Co imported agricultural machinery into South Africa in 1905. In 1937, Paul Andrag and Co installed the first irrigation system in South Africa, and also became the country’s first John Deere dealer.
The company has more than 30 branches across South Africa. AGRICO’s product line includes irrigation components and solutions. Its Web Control, for example, provides “simple, effective control” over the irrigation system, the company says.
The service allows farmers to monitor and manage their irrigation systems remotely, via Internet-enabled devices, such as a smartphone, tablet or computer. The advanced RAIN service, used in conjunction with Web Control, allows farmers to remotely control centre pivots.
“RAIN automatically controls your centre pivot irrigation according to pressure and enables you to quickly detect and respond to system issues,” says AGRICO.
The Web Control system has GPS functionality, which means that farmers can monitor separate components of their irrigation systems to increase energy and water savings.
“Web Control is able to determine the position of the last tower in a centre pivot and can monitor the pressure at the end of each pivot. You can adjust the strength of the motors and pumps to meet each pivot’s exact needs at any moment.”