Project Update

PAIL Revisited: Raising the Profile on AgGateway’s Irrigation Standards

By Paul Schrimpf, Marketing and Communications Director

Nearly a decade ago, 23 organizations with a stake in the connectivity of irrigation-related sensors, software, and equipment came together to participate in an AgGateway curated project to establish standards in key aspects of irrigated farm operations.

The goal of the Precision Ag Irrigation Language project, or PAIL, was to provide an industry-wide format to enable the exchange and use of data to and from irrigation management systems, many of which were stored in myriad proprietary formats.

Despite broad participation and the successful creation of data formats beginning in 2016, the prevalence of hyper-competitiveness, rapid consolidation among players in subsequent years, and an influx of new players in the sensor segment of the industry served to suppress wide adoption of the PAIL formats.

Consequently, echoes of the same challenges from lack of compatibility and connectivity continue to reverberate in today’s irrigation control market.

Allan Fetters, who heads up his own consulting firm, AGCeleration Advisory Service, was engaged in the PAIL Project at the start representing his former employer, Simplot Grower Solutions. He sees a lot of the same issues facing producers and consultants today as when PAIL was founded.

“The pivot manufacturers in many cases have some kind of platform that allows users to visualize the water being applied and the position of the pivot, but in most cases they have not tied back to some of the sensory types of technology that can really help to fine tune the amount of water that is going to be applied,” says Fetters. “There has been some reluctance to do that, as everyone wants to be able to fly their own flag.”

With more and different sensors coming to the market providing feedback on soil moisture, soil characteristics, and weather conditions, it makes sense to create a more efficient means to connect the sensors to the systems that would then enable the irrigation recommendation/work order to execute an irrigation event. And it’s a key driver behind the effort to take PAIL to the next level: ISO standard.

“Ultimately, the multitude of in-field sensors, irrigation control systems, and human scouting observations create interoperability challenges that prevent data from being used to inform irrigation decisions,” says Ben Craker, AgGateway Portfolio Manager helping with the PAIL project. “PAIL – ISO 7673 – has leveraged industry and academia collaboration to define terms, business process, and standardized data structures making connections easier to maintain, and cost less to implement. The result will give producers and advisors access to the data needed to make science-based irrigation decisions while accurately documenting water use in an increasingly scrutinized aspect of global agriculture.”

PAIL Details

The PAIL work will be published in a three-part ISO standard:

  • ISO 7673-1 will describe the core concepts relevant across all parts of the standard. While this is being done in the context of an irrigation standard, it draws on field operations experiences from other AgGateway efforts including SPADE and ADAPT.

    People familiar with these projects will recognize the core documents – crop plan, observations and measurements, recommendation, work order, work record, and reference and setup data – being formalized in the standard. It also discusses the Context Item system which allows systems to model universal concepts and then enhance those objects with ContextItems for information that is specific to a region, government, or practice.
  • ISO 7673-2 focuses on the Observations and Measurements document. With the drive to make more data-driven decisions in agriculture, accurately communicating measurements from the field, atmosphere, or plants becomes imperative. These measurements often originate from weather stations, soil probes, and other sensors that are power and bandwidth constrained.

    Special care is taken in the standard to not impose requirements on these systems while at the same time ensuring recipients of the data know when, where, and how the measurements were gathered. This is achieved by an agricultural implementation of the ISO 19156:2011 conceptual standard for observations and measurements. What this means for the industry is moving away from .csv files with no headers or units of measure to receiving data not only with units of measure but also information about how the readings were collected and aggregated.
  • Part three of the standard is focused on the Plan, Recommendation, Work Order, and Work Record documents as they relate to irrigation systems. This section is partially based on the ISO 11783-10 standard that created “ISO XML” with the prescription (Work Order) and as-applied (Work Record) files used by tractors and implements during field operations.

    Due to how the eight different irrigation system types covered by the standard work and move (or don’t), ISO 11783 did not make sense to apply directly. Additionally, the standard also recognizes there is variation in farm operations and not all the documents may exist or be exchanged digitally due to the differences in a particular farm operation’s size, jurisdiction, or other factors. The standard is not meant to imply that operations or systems should support all the documents. Where these data changes do occur electronically, the standard can facilitate the messages between systems.

The team finalized the submission at the end of last month within ISO Technical Committee 23, Subcommittee 19 after receiving and responding to comments from the international community on the drafts. ISO will then complete a final review of the standard with publication likely to occur later this year.