Zimmatic Blog

How Variable Rate Irrigation (VRI) Can Make a Difference

Jul 28, 2022

How Variable Rate Irrigation (VRI) Can Make a Difference

When it comes to your irrigation system’s water delivery, the more precise the better, right? The speed of delivery, depth of application and rate of flow are all factors that can impact your crops, land and even profitability. That’s where variable rate irrigation or VRI technology can help.

What is variable rate irrigation (VRI)?

Variable rate irrigation, as the name suggests, provides varying irrigation levels to ensure the precise delivery of water to your crops throughout their lifecycle. Essentially, it helps apply the right amount of water or chemicals to the right places at the right time. How does it do this?

Zimmatic Precision VRI™ works with your pivot (or lateral move) irrigation system and FieldNET™, your remote control and reporting tool, to provide the ultimate efficiency. It leverages the historical data, local weather, topography, yield and soil maps, chemigation and fertigation information, and more from FieldNET Advisor™ to create tailored “prescriptions” or plans. Those plans are then sent to your pivot, where it—and each individual sprinkler—is controlled to ensure the precise amount of water is applied per the plan.

FieldNET Advisor can even automatically model and create prescriptions for different soil or crop types, and then send you those recommendations. Each day, or as often as you like, you can decide whether you want to go with the automatically generated plan or modify it and send your own. This means greater control for you and ultimately, more sustained profitability for your irrigation operation.

7 benefits of investing in variable rate irrigation

While precision agriculture or precision irrigation are not new terms, they are continuing to grow in prominence and need. Let’s look at the top benefits driving growers to make the investment into VRI.

Increase efficiency and profitability

Overwatering. Underwatering. Inconsistent irrigation. These scenarios can all be costly for a grower and our environment. Precision irrigation solutions like VRI can help provide the data and control to make every drop of water—and dollar spent—on your operation count. 

Maximize yields

Data and precision are the key to yielding more today. Growers are facing unpredictable weather patterns, global economic factors, sustainability requirements and changing consumer tastes. However, with data you can better understand your operation or irrigation needs and stay ahead of any potential issues to ensure maximum yields.

Take the end of the irrigation season, for example, when growers are deciding whether to irrigate different areas of their operation. Under normal (non-VRI) irrigation, the question could be whether to irrigate for dryer areas at the risk of getting other areas too wet going into winter. Or, it could be about not irrigating for wetter areas at the risk of dryer areas getting too dry and impacting soil moisture for the next season. Precision VRI can help alleviate the stress of this decision-making by tailoring irrigation levels to different soil types based on data.

Save water and other resources

Zimmatic Precision VRI goes beyond speed or sector-based VRI, controlling each sprinkler individually to turn on/off or pulse at customized rates, depending on crop, terrain or obstacle. It can also conserve your available water by matching irrigation to soil characteristics and avoiding tracks, drains or unproductive land. But beyond just conserving it, you can make water stretch further by diverting the conserved (or saved) water from one pivot to another—ultimately, using the same amount of water to run more pivots.

Minimize nutrient leaching and runoff

FieldNET Advisor helps pinpoint exactly where water is needed by looking at soil data maps to understand soil moisture and health. It then creates a prescription for Zimmatic Precision VRI to ensure the pivot system can deliver the precise amount of water to the right areas, accounting for all factors in addition to soil characteristics and plant needs. This greatly helps reduce overwatering, which can lead to nutrient leaching and runoff to nearby water sources.

Greater control and customization

Like with all precision agriculture equipment and technologies, VRI puts you in greater control of your operation by understanding it better than ever before. And when paired with our award-winning FieldNET remote precision irrigation management technology, you can take the guesswork out of running your irrigation systems. Get recommendations, view prescriptions and benefit from customized irrigation management.

Constant system flow rate

Zimmatic Precision VRI is the only system that allows a constant flow rate to be set, which can be advantageous in areas where there are water restrictions. Rather than having to renozzle irrigators for a lower flow rate, VRI can simply control the flow rate without any change of hardware. This means no downtime is needed for renozzling your irrigation system or not having enough flow to even run it.

If you have a corner irrigator, like the Zimmatic 9500CC2 Custom Corner, VRI offers even greater benefits. When a corner arm folds in, it shuts off its sprinklers which normally reduces your overall flow rate. However, with Precision VRI, your irrigation system can account for this change, speeding up the machine and diverting the water from the corner arm to the remainder of the machine to make sure 100% of available water is used—and the same depth is applied. This keeps your flow rate constant and is a massive productivity booster, especially for systems that struggle to apply enough water during peak season.

Optimize chemical use

Like irrigation efficiency, you can also optimize chemigation and fertigation with a solution like variable rate irrigation technology. Zimmatic Precision VRI helps you apply exactly the right amount of water AND chemicals to specific areas of your field to save on costs and maximize yields.

This could also mean avoiding the use of chemicals and fertilizers on sensitive areas of your land, such as tracks, troughs and streams. This added layer of control can be very beneficial for growers with stricter mandates on chemical or fertilizer usage through their irrigators.

The different types of VRI

If you’re exploring VRI, you may have come across options like sector control, speed control or variable zone. Each of these is a good option for machines where there are consistent variables with changes that are constant along the length of the pivot.

  • Sector or speed control VRI divides your operation up into slices of a pie to adjust and apply the right speed and depth of water for each slice.
  • Variable zone VRI looks at your operation as smaller zones (versus just slices) for higher irrigation accuracy and control.

But what if your soil types vary a lot from creeks or streams nearby, tracks or wetlands under your machine? What if you want to grow crops based on different soil types rather than “sectors” or “zones”?

Zimmatic Precision VRI goes a step further than just circles, pie slices or zones by providing your system with individual sprinkler control based on areas you’ve noted on your map in FieldNET to achieve the desired outcome in every location.

How to get started with VRI today

VRI can be a valuable opportunity to improve your irrigation efficiency and overall profitability. In fact, most growers have seen impressive returns over and above what they expected after installing Precision VRI. This includes less track maintenance, time and cost savings, the ability to extend available water, increased yields and added flexibility in not having to plan around irrigation constraints.

There are even some small steps you can take toward optimizing your irrigation while considering VRI technology. Steps like researching your water usage and analyzing current data on your irrigation system, yields and land. You can also look at soil moisture levels and test patch areas of your fields to start getting a better sense of what is too much or too little irrigation for your fields and crops.

The most important thing to remember when getting started is you don’t have to understand everything right from the beginning. The more you use VRI, the more you’ll discover—and the more creative you can get. From eliminating wheel tracks to applying fertilizer to growing productive crops in boggy areas, there are so many reasons to invest in Precision VRI and make your life a little easier today.

Precision VRI savings calculator

You may also find it beneficial to look at the potential cost savings of implementing this technology. Our Precision VRI savings calculator can help estimate the gains that you could potentially achieve each season with Zimmatic Precision VRI installed on one of your irrigators.

Our network of Zimmatic dealers are also here to help answer your questions and decide if VRI is right for your operation, even if you’re thinking about adding Zimmatic Precision VRI to another brand’s pivot irrigation system. They can also further discuss the benefits of VRI and FieldNET working together.

At the end of the day, every step you take toward irrigation efficiency can make a big difference—to your crops, your irrigation operation and our environment.