Net Irrigate Helps Keep Farms Working

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

With xProxy Link, farmers receive messages on their phones or via e-mail alerting them to thrown switches in equipment that could foretell costly failures.

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Well pumps. Irrigation controllers. Grain-bin dryers. The list of farm equipment that can fail—and waste water, fuel and other precious resources in the process—is a long one. That's not to mention the loss of productivity farms suffer when machines break. And when the equipment is dispersed across a large farm, hours or days may pass before the operator realizes something has failed.

In 2009, Eddie DeSalle founded Net Irrigate in order to help customers in the agriculture industry attain greater visibility into the operation of their vital equipment, and to be able to respond quickly if something goes awry. The company sells remote monitoring systems that combine self-powered switch boxes with integrated cellular modems, which relay alerts to farmers in the event of failure.

Net Irrigate's xProxy Link solutions

This fall, Net Irrigate released a new product called xProxy Link, which joins the firm's two other offerings: PumpProxy, for monitoring water pump health, and WireRat, an anti-theft device for center-pivot irrigation systems (the wire cabling of which is a common target for thieves).

Net Irrigate also sells xProxy Link Dual, which triggers an alert when attached to dry contacts (a set of conductive contacts linked to a power switch) that are normally either closed or opened, whereas the xProxy Link only works with contacts that are normally closed.

The xProxy is a simple device that DeSalle says can be used for several different applications. Two wires extending from the box can be wired up to any switch, relay or signaling device that has a set of dry contacts that change state based on the condition of a circuit or switch. Once installed, the device triggers an alert whenever a circuit opens (or, if a customer is using the xProxy Link Dual, closes). Thus, pressure, limit or temperature switches, float switches (which track the level of liquid within a tank), or pump station alarm contacts can all trigger an alert.

Once the xProxy Link or xProxy Link Dual is installed, a green LED light on the device's face blinks for two minutes, indicating a successful setup. If a red light blinks, the installation was not successful. When a switch changes state and triggers the xProxy device, a yellow LED light blinks, indicating an alert communication is in progress. To signify a successful data transmission, the yellow light stops and the LED flickers green again.

The user sets up the xProxy Link with a customized warning—for example, "the water in the trough is nearly empty"—which he or she can have sent via text message, e-mail, voicemail or a push notification on a mobile app. Such alerts are managed through the xProxy mobile app and can be directed to five different recipients. App users can also access logs of past alerts.

Scott Young, a service technician for Chester Inc., a provider of irrigation and grain bin equipment, is a Net Irrigate reseller. Since the xProxy Link products came out this fall, Young says, he has installed a handful of the devices, to such things as water pumps or grain bin dryer engines. He adds that he is starting to see older farmers become more accustomed to using smartphones, and that they are no longer as intimidated by technology as they once were.

DeSalle agrees. "Customer attitudes are changing, and it has to do with how trusting customers are of the [cellular] wireless infrastructure that used to be spotty in most rural areas," he says.

Net Irrigate does not charge an ongoing subscription fee for xProxy. Instead, customers pay $549 for the device and are allowed 4,000 alerts. The number of alerts triggered annually depends on the type of machine to which the device is connected. A farmer who wants to know whenever a fan is turned on inside a grain bin will likely to receive hundreds of alerts each year. But if the xProxy is attached to a water pump for an irrigation well, it's unlikely to trigger as many alerts.

"We try to match the battery life on the device to maximum likely data consumption," DeSalle states. When the xProxy triggers an alert, the user also gets an indication of how much battery life remains. However, the company notes that the battery is not designed to be replaced, and that when either the battery expires or the cellular data limit is reached, the customer must purchase a new xProxy device.

It is not a small investment, but DeSalle says that if an xProxy alerts helps a farmer respond to a problem quickly, he or she stands to see a quick return on the investment. "Say you have this connected to a variable frequency drive to power a pump motor," he explains. "If it overheats, it costs $3,000 or $4,000 to replace—maybe as much as $10,000, depending on the size of the drive. So if the xProxy triggers an alarm before the drive overheats, it could pay for itself multiple times over."