Switching to automated irrigation
Experienced nursery technicians know they can’t water a native perennial at the same rate and frequency as an evergreen or shrub. That’s why the average pop-up lawn sprinkler wouldn’t work in a professional growing environment. Managers at Midwest Groundcovers, LLC understood this, but they quickly realized that irrigation suppliers are not always on the same page.
The company’s switch in 2016 to an automated irrigation system
customized for a nursery environment has enabled efficiencies that they
couldn’t achieve with a previous system designed for golf courses. A
precise, easily programmable system is critical for this wholesale
grower of nursery stock, including native plants, shrubs, evergreens,
perennials and groundcovers, as it continues to expand.
Today, workers can focus on the plants instead of managing irrigation controllers thanks to the implementation of an automated system from Argus Controls. “It allows the grower to scout the plants more instead of trying to run all over the nursery opening and closing valves,” says Mike Krueger, Midwest Groundcover’s nursery manager at the Virgil location.
Stuck in the sand trap
Early experiences with automation systems don’t always go as planned. Whether it’s a factory or a greenhouse, initial deployments of “smart” technologies are either a boon to business operations or an exercise in frustration.
For Midwest Groundcovers, it was the latter. The company struggled early on with an automated irrigation system at its Virgil production nursery, which opened in 2001. It was an unwieldy system that was difficult to program and manage, says Matthew Fredrickson, the company’s production manager.
“The irrigation system was programmed for a golf course,” Fredrickson
recalls. “You would set it, walk away, and everything is watering the
same. “What the system designers and engineers couldn’t understand is
that we’re a nursery producing plants that are growing, and their need
for water is changing throughout the season.”
What the company needed was a system that was easier to program to accommodate the unique needs of different types of plants.
In 2013, Midwest Groundcovers found a solution from Argus Controls that met its requirements. The Midwest team was embarking on a 30-acre outdoor expansion, called the Thomsen Growing Center, at its Virgil location to grow containerized shrubs.
The Argus system doesn’t require IT or automation expertise to program, Krueger says. The design made more sense for a grower, with zones and schedules customized for different planting sections. The management team also wanted irrigation controls that could work seamlessly with existing technologies, including the company’s customized fertigation system.
“They made sure the Argus system could talk to those injectors and that the programming was simple enough for a grower to use the system,” Krueger says. “Argus didn’t force us to buy their equipment. They worked around what we had.”
That was important because Midwest Groundcovers had already invested a
considerable amount of money into its existing fertilization system,
according to Krueger. Starting over with new fertilization injectors
would have been costly. The system was up and running in time for the
Fully automated future
The company was impressed enough with the Argus irrigation system to begin switching its automated controls to Argus, as well. In 2019, the company switched a portion of its environmental controls in its Virgil nursery greenhouse expansion to the Argus system.
By the end of 2021, the company will extend the automated control system to two growing centers, including a new one that’s under construction, and half of its greenhouses. Midwest Groundcovers’ goal in the future is to expand Argus to the rest of the existing growing centers in Virgil, so the Virgil nursery is standardized with one system. Moving forward, the company will include the Argus system in the design of any new greenhouses or growing shelters, Krueger says.
“We’re really satisfied with Argus,” he says. “We have tried and used several different systems for environmental controls, but we want to standardize the nursery. We like the Argus system and how it works, so for us it made sense for us to continue on that path.”