When you’re running a large-scale dairy farm, suddenly running out of water is not an option. Access to large amounts of hydration is the lifeblood of a farm’s operation –– from providing water for livestock to irrigation.
“Years ago, if you had 50 cows and you ran out of well water, you could bring in water for them,” said Mark Putra, a water consultant who works with agricultural clients. “But you can’t have water hauled in for 5,000 cows. And if you don’t have well water, you can’t cool the milk. So then you have all of this milk that you can’t use.”
For Putra, having real-time water supply data at his fingertips helps prevent a disaster.
After a career as a water expert at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Putra works as a water consultant for a Brown County Dairy farm in northeastern Wisconsin. Because water is so vital to the operation, the farm has two pumps that potentially can operate the entire farm on its own as a back-up. Variation in water levels or operation for either pump has to be taken seriously.
The first step is even knowing if there could be a potential problem. If a pump is broken or a water level drops overnight, it could put the farm in jeopardy.
“You don’t run home and get a new 40 horsepower pump,” Putra said. “That has to be constructed for you. That’s a custom build. You’re just not going to get that within six hours.”
That’s where Wellntel comes in and provides the potential to create a cutting-edge rapid response –– before the operation shuts down.
“Prior to Wellntel it was the same approach we were using in the Kennedy administration,” Putra said. “We were still using the same monitoring that we were using in the 1960s when the herd was 50 or 75 cows. Wellntel has brought us up to modern times.”
Creating rapid feedback
Putra doesn’t even have to be anywhere near the well to detect an early warning. If an issue arises, he’ll get an email alert from Wellntel’s sensors telling him that the water level has changed.
As business owners everywhere have seen, water is rapidly and unpredictably changing. The goal then is to stay on top of the trends and lower risk.
That’s how Putra started noticing a troubling pattern in one of the wells on the Brown County farm.
With high-powered and high-performing pumps, adequate water is needed to cool the motors itself. There needs to be enough water to stay in the ground to keep the pump from overheating.
“If you pump that dry,” Putra said, “there goes your pump.”
Thanks to Wellntel data, Putra saw that one of the wells was underperforming. The dashboard showed a consistent pattern of lower water levels, rather than just a one-time glitch.
“The beauty of the Wellntel sensors is you get insight into a variety of data, including the performance of the well and how much drawdown you have when the well is running,” Putra said. “Once you see the deviations you can inspect what’s the source of that problem. Is the equipment malfunctioning? Is there a new employee doing something different?”
After seeing the pattern, the farm constructed another well much farther away –– which now produces the quantity and quality they need to continue operations while investigating the underlying issues.
Due to the Wellintel data, their risk is now much lower as they ensure continuity of operations.
Water rich but information poor
Situated on a Great Lake, a state like Wisconsin may not seem like geography at risk for water issues. But even without the threat of arid landscapes or extended droughts, the need for real time information is necessary to reduce the risk everywhere, especially as operations scale.
Throughout his career, Putra has seen potential water issues crop up across the state, including hundreds of irrigation wells in Central Wisconsin.
“Those wells produce anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 gallons a minute,” Putra said. “It’s an order of magnitude greater than a big well on a dairy farm.”
Putra compares the need to monitor investment in a well the same as monitoring an expensive tractor or any other important piece of farm equipment.
“When you look at the tractors you use they are worth a quarter-million dollars,” he said. “You would never drive those around without gas gauges and meters and diagnostic equipment. And yet prior to Wellntel we were running a $200,000 well without any of that.”
These water-rich states may have access to water reserves, but farms are still vulnerable to drops in water levels that could halt operation –– especially when pumps are expected to operate 24 hours a day.
“Prior to Wellntel’s real-time monitoring, the only time a problem was known was if you didn’t have water –– that was it,” Putra said. “The Wellntel
System is a huge leap forward in terms of technology.”
It’s a change that allows his business to go from information-poor to information-rich –– a crucial shift in ensuring longevity.
“That’s why I was so excited when I heard about Wellntel,” he said.