Farmers Get ‘Smarter’ with New UF Apps

By on November 10th, 2013

Pete Spyke’s Citra orange shop is a relic of the past, but he has no reservations adapting new technology to his groves.

Spyke is the type of grower the University of Florida had in mind when developing their new smart device applications.

Last month, UF released three free smart device apps aimed to help farmers and homeowners become more efficient and conserve water.

The apps echo the trend of people in the agriculture business adapting to smart technology.

In 2012, 40 percent of American farmers had adopted to smartphone technology, according to a report published by Float Mobile Learning, a mobile consulting firm.

That number is up from about 10 percent in 2010, and it will continue to rise.

The smartirrigation apps used data already collected by the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and converted it into a user-friendly application.

After growers input their individual data, like root length and location, the app creates an irrigation schedule based on real-time information from weather providers like the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN).

Each app is tailored for a specific crop. The first three – for citrus, strawberries and urban turfgrass – are the beginning of a group of apps, said Kati Migliaccio, one of the researchers and a UF associate professor in agricultural and biological engineering.

The apps help conserve water by sending notifications to growers if there is a high probability of rain in the forecast or if there was a lot of rain in the area within 24 hours. Growers can then alter their irrigation schedules to ensure the correct amount of water is used on crops.

Although the citrus and strawberry apps are tailored to farmers, the urban turfgrass app was developed for homeowners.

Preliminary research on the turf app has shown a 20 to 30 percent saving in water, Migliaccio said. She thinks that as the researchers continue to receive feedback, they will see similar results in the other apps.

The project is a result of collaboration between the University of Florida and the University of Georgia. In 2011, the researchers received $1.5 million in grants from the USDA.

“It seemed like the right time,” Migliaccio said. “Everything seemed to fit.”

Pete Spyke, owner of The Orange Shop in Citra, has recently adapted his growing practices to include smart technology.

With a new state-of-the-art irrigation control system, Spyke is able to use his cell phone to adjust his irrigation schedule.

With groves in Indian River and Ft. Pierce, and another packing house in Weirsdale, the wireless aspect of the controller will cut back on Spyke’s driving and allow him to make adjustments immediately.

Since the new system has it’s own cell phone modem, Spyke said he won’t use the new apps, but he uses the FAWN system that IFAS created to know the most current weather forecast.

Spyke, a third-generation grower, started working in the orange business with his dad when he was 5 years old. He uses the same growing practices his grandfather developed in the 1930s.

After 57 years in the business, his favorite part is still walking through the groves with his knife and taking a bite of fresh fruit.

“Our job is to make sure we live up to people’s expectations,” Spyke said.

With progressing technology, Spyke has been able to expand his business in Marion county. The Orange Shop ships over 100 variations of oranges across America.

“As science evolves, we are able to apply it,” Spyke said.

Amy Van Scoik, co-owner of Frog Song Organics, a small farm in Hawthorne, is open to expanding production to include smarter technology.

Van Scoik said she wants to invest in a tablet to localize all of their information in one portable device. In order to invest though, the product needs to prove its worth.

“Someone has to demonstrate that it is a better way of doing it,” Van Scoik said.

Van Scoik said she probably wouldn’t use the new apps because their farm has too many different products and their plots aren’t big enough to warrant an app for each.

Kelly Morgan, a UF associate professor in the department of soil & water science, developed the research used in the citrus and strawberry apps.

Morgan hopes that people realize the potential for utilizing the apps.

By having information readily available, they make the grower’s job easier and simplify the process to determine the best irrigation schedule.

“If they don’t have all of the information, they can make very bad decisions,” Morgan said.

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