Farmer Milo Call has designed and built a system that remotely controls his irrigation pivot by using UHF radios.
His system, called RemoteAg, uses a radio antenna, global positioning system and a command board that relies on a timer and series of relay switches.
A self-described technology nerd, Call designed and built the system, which uses UHF radios that transmit to receivers at the pivots.
“I haven’t found a system like mine — a centralized computer system that does away with the need for a computer panel at each pivot and can be remotely accessed from my phone,” said Call. “Radius range of the system is 40 miles from the base station.”
He relies on it to raise potatoes, sugar beets and grain on 1,300 acres in the Cold Water area west of American Falls in southeastern Idaho.
“If anything has electricity and a switch, I can control it remotely using my cell phone to communicate with the computer in my shop,” he said. “It’s putting the power of running my farm into the palm of my hand.”
Several years ago, Call thought of buying a popular program that uses an “app” and his smart phone to control his 22 pivots remotely.
“I decided not to because I didn’t like the cost of paying for new panels on each pivot and the ongoing cell phone service charges to run them,” he said.
Instead, he began doing research on the internet.
“I like a challenge, especially involving technology,” said Call, who is also a “Ham” radio operator and part of the local emergency preparedness network. “Anytime you tell a farmer something can’t be done, he’ll say, ‘Watch me.’”
After writing software for two years in his spare time and building a control box, he installed prototypes on two pivots in 2016. Now the system is fully operational on the entire farm.
He still remembers running it for the first time.
“I couldn’t stop giggling because it worked so well,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘I did it.’ Everything I needed, I found on the internet. I designed and assembled the components to work together with the software I wrote.”
The components of a RemoteAg control box include a radio antenna, global positioning system to identify a pivot’s location, and a command board that uses a timer and series of switches.
To control it, he found a programmer in Florida who had written automation software.
“I bought the program and customized it by writing a series of logic conditional and script statements to control tasks such as variable rate irrigation, end-gun control, or to turn it off and on,” he said. “The system will text me for pivot events such as ... reaching a stop, or if a pivot shuts off unexpectedly.”
It can also automate partial pivots, allowing unattended operation just as though it were a full circle pivot.
In his shop adjacent to his home overlooking the Snake River, he clicks through screens on his computer monitor to see what is happening in each field — how much it has been watered or whether a pivot is stuck or not working.
With the last 15 minutes of daylight, he can pull up the program on his phone and know what needs to be done.
“This system is designed by a farmer to think like a farmer and do what a farmer wants it to do,” he said. “It would be interesting to see what it would do in the market place, but I’m not sure I have the time for that.”