Net Irrigate WireRat 4.0 Explained

Irrigation system protection against copper theft and more

By Geof Fowler, Photography by Net Irrigate, Oct 03, 2014
With copper prices north of $3/lb., it’s no surprise that enterprising thieves have their sights set on anyplace the red metal is used. Reports of plumbing being stripped from homes, industrial sites and even electrical power stations have become daily news. And now thieves have discovered a new target: our farms.

Farms typically encompass many acres, are bordered by easy access roads, and tended by few workers. That makes the center pivot irrigation systems used, sometimes called waterwheel or circle irrigation systems, and which can contain up to a mile of valuable copper, a relatively easy target.

All a thief needs to do is wait until the farmer is not actively out in the field, then back their pickup truck up to the pivot. After cutting the span cable, they attach it to their trailer hitch, pull forward, and yank out the cable. With word getting around that the shielded cable can be a tip-off to scrap yards, the thief then burns off the plastic coating. For an investment of not too much time, the take can easily be a few hundred dollars. But for the farmer, the damage done can run in excess of $10,000, and that’s not taking into consideration the resultant potential crop damage.

Net Irrigate WireRat 4.0 Device

Enter Net Irrigate and WireRat, which was first introduced in 2011. WireRat sends out an alert the moment a span cable is cut and has become the agricultural industry’s best selling solution to copper theft. Recently, caught up with Julie Upchurch, Net Irrigate’s Director of Sales, coinciding with the upcoming release of WireRat 4.0. – What is the history of Net Irrigate?

Julie Upchurch – Net Irrigate began as a MBA business plan by our GM Edward DeSalle and a farmer partner while at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

Q - How does the system work?

A – WireRat senses when continuity has been cut and sends out an alert using text, email and voice that can go out to up to ten recipients, such as the farmer and police without letting the thief know the theft-in-progress has been detected.

Net Irrigate WireRat 4.0 Field

Q – That must mean there has to be a cell phone attached to the system.

A – Yes, WireRat has a cellular modem inside [utilizing] the Verizon Wireless network to send out those alerts.

Q – What does the system cost and are there any subscription or monthly contract costs?

A – WireRat Express retails for $1099 and there is no monthly subscription fee other than the cellular network.

Q  – How is the system powered?

A – No external power is required. A lithium battery provides all the self-contained power necessary.

Net Irrigate WireRat 4.0 App

Q – So, what kind of battery life can be expected?

A – Our first WireRat systems had a battery life of approximately five years. WireRat 4.0 will extend that battery life by 40%, so up to seven years.

Q – When will the first WireRat 4.0 systems start shipping?

A – October 1st. We are currently accepting pre-orders now.

Q – Are some newer irrigation systems copper free?

A – Yes, one manufacturer (T-L) sells a hydraulic unit that does not require a copper stand wire.

Net Irrigate WireRat 4.0 Software

Q – How do you expect that to influence your business?

A – With pivot systems lasting as much as 30-40 years and not all users keen on hydraulic pivots, we don’t anticipate much impact – and our Pivot Proxy TL offers safety stop notification, remote shutdown and GPS monitoring of T-L hydraulic pivots.

Q – What about system testing to make sure all is in working order?

A – Along with the increased battery life, another WireRat 4.0 improvement is that the system will automatically self test every month. Prior to 4.0, every fall there would be an initiative to remind users to test the unit which required disconnecting the wire at the pivot to set off the alarm. And that is also when the pivot is taken off the field for harvesting, which invites forgetting to reconnect the system. WireRat 4.0 is a big improvement for those two reasons.

Q – Net Irrigate recently celebrated the 1,000,000th WireRat notification. How did you celebrate that milestone?

A – As we approached the million notification mark, there was a large countdown. The winner received a Net Irrigate t-shirt and a gift card and we all had fun.

Net Irrigate WireRat 4.0 Top View

Q – Earlier you mentioned Pivot Proxy TL with added monitoring features. It sounds like there are other products sold by Net Irrigate.

A – Yes, Pivot Proxy in conjunction with WireRat can remotely monitor pivot functions using our website. Users can remotely shut off the irrigation system, view the GPS map to see where the pivot is, and receive notification if something goes wrong. Pivot Proxy retails for $1349 and the monitoring hardware and software prevents costly events. Pump Proxy comes in AC and DC versions which remotely monitor and can shut down engine driven irrigation pumps without the need for expensive kill wiring from the pivot panel to the associated wells.

Q – Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

A – Copper theft is often drug related with reports in thefts shooting up from November to April when farmers are not actively out in their fields. Then in May or June when the damage is discovered crops can be lost. Insurance deductibles have also been going up, so WireRat is really cheap insurance when you come down to it. We know WireRat alerts have led to the arrest of sixty plus thieves and approximately two hundred apprehensions. By apprehensions we mean that the thief was scared off. Net Irrigate technology can help prevent expensive thefts, create peace of mind especially during the off-season, reduce the risk of an alarm inadvertently being disarmed during maintenance, and eliminate the need for physical testing which saves valuable time.

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