Arkansas farmers Jim and Sam Whitaker are making investments in Internet-of-Things technology designed to help them save time, money and water.
The brothers are using remotely controlled irrigation products developed by agricultural consulting firm PrecisionKing of Yazoo City, Mississippi, on their 5,700-acre rice farm in McGehee. PrecisionKing relies on AT&T services to support the products it sells.
Jim Whitaker said the state average for water use at rice farms is 30-35 acre inches, with some farms using more than 40 acre inches. His farm has averaged 12 acre inches for the past two years, a savings of 550,000 gallons per acre.
He hopes to cut that use by another 10 percent as fields become more automated using PrecisionKing products.
When averaging the cost of the equipment over three years, a farmer can see an average return on investment of $8 per acre per year, said PrecisionKing owner Nick King.
The Whitakers are pairing his products with a progressive rice farming technique called alternate wetting and drying, which involves letting water evaporate before irrigating again, as opposed to keeping fields constantly flooded.
The farm has the ability to capture all rainfall, because all of its fields are zero grade with a perimeter road. That, coupled with alternate wetting and drying, has already reduced the Whitakers’ water consumption by half.
They declined to disclose their cost savings from using PrecisionKing products, but said the farm’s use of those are in the “experimental stage.” PrecisionKing is absorbing most of the upfront costs.
PrecisionKing sells five products that allow farmers to:
- Remotely monitor soil moisture on an hourly basis.
- Remotely monitor and control irrigation pumps.
- Remotely monitor rice water levels in real time.
- Remotely monitor pivots.
- Track growing conditions all year via a dedicated weather station.
King said its RiceKing product is a device placed in a field that senses the water level there and allows farmers to see the level wherever they are via a smartphone app.
If farmers have an electric well pump, they can connect the RiceKing to another PrecisionKing product, the PumpKing.
The PumpKing, by itself, can be used to remotely start or stop the pump. Connecting it to the RiceKing allows a farmer to program the pump to come on or shut off as the water reaches a certain level in the fields.