Arkansas Farmers Find Apps, Wireless Essential to Agricultural Sector

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Jul. 29, 2013 12:00 am  

Scott Matthews of Weiner couldn’t imagine farming without his technological tools by his side.

“I completely rely on the Internet for all my information,” said Matthews, 50, who farms 1,400 acres of rice and soy beans.

Technology ranging from Global Positioning Satellite devices in his tractors to weather applications on his smartphone and iPad have helped Matthews manage his crops and report a 10 to 15 increase in profit in 2012 over 2011.

Pinpointing exactly when farms began widespread adoption of wireless technology is difficult, but several agriculture experts pointed to the appearance about 10 years ago of GPS systems in tractors. Technology advancements also blossomed in 2007, when the first Apple iPhone was released, said Mike Hamilton, Poinsett County extension agent for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

Hamilton and others said that determining how much money farmers are saving or earning with the new technology also is difficult. However, “I will tell you that anybody that’s looked at this new technology and using this new technology, … they certainly don’t want to go back to the way they were doing it,” Hamilton said.

For example, technology allows farmers to measure and use precisely the amount of water and fertilizer needed for crops.

“We’re better stewards of our environment because of technology, and you can’t put a price on that,” Hamilton said.

And more high-tech tools are being released.

In January, the UA’s Agriculture Division unveiled an app called Corn Advisor, designed to help corn producers by allowing them to tap into corn production information. The app is available for Android phones now, and iTunes is expected to start carrying it in the next few weeks, said Dharmendra Saraswat, extension engineer for the Agriculture Division, who helped create the app.

The technology shift also has helped AgRobotics Inc. of Little Rock. AgRobotics created the AutoProbe, a machine that tests a farmer’s soil and uses GPS technology to relay the information to farmers on what seed and fertilizer to use.

The company, which has been growing since its organizers won the 2006 Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup business plan competition, reported revenue of about $1.3 million in 2012, said President Jeff Burton. “We’re looking at 50 percent growth” this year, he said. “We’re seeing a ton of interest.”

In the last 12 months, he said, there’s been a strong push from all areas of agriculture to use technology for precision farming. Either farmers are embracing the new technology or “they’re retiring,” Burton said.



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