Cleveland — A high-tech business in the Delta is helping farmers from 10 states write a better “prescription” for applying farm chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides. That not only can improve yields and farm profitability, but is also good for the environment by reducing contaminated rainwater runoff.
InTime is a precision agriculture service provider that is a business spinoff of research done at Stennis Space Center utilizing geospatial technology to improve the efficiency of applications of chemicals on a field.
Kelly Dupont, director of sales and marketing, said until InTime came along, there was nowhere to buy a service like this.
“InTime provides crop input management services that target a reduction of input/chemical costs through the use of aerial images that are converted to prescription maps that enable you to vary the rates of agricultural chemicals to a field during the growing season,” Dupont said. “Prescription maps allow the farm manager to apply chemicals only where they are needed, as opposed to blanket spraying entire fields. This results in a proven 25% to 50% savings in application of chemicals and a direct cost savings to the farmer through increased labor efficiency and reduced chemical costs.”
These savings are based on the amount that would have been used with blanket spraying. The service works by first taking aerial infrared photographs of a field from a small single engine airplane. Within 24 hours of image collection, the farmer can access InTime’s Web site, www.gointime.com, and download a “scout map” that shows the relative health of the fields. Then, again using InTime’s Web site, a prescription is developed by the farmer or crop consultant based on the amount of chemicals needed in each respective area of the field.
InTime’s technology allows farmers to put more chemical where it is truly needed and reduce chemical inputs where possible to get the best results. The resulting prescription is uploaded into either ground or aerial spray applicators that use global positioning systems (GPS) to insure precise application of the correct amount of chemicals.
“We take a picture today and tomorrow we have a really great map that shows you where the good areas are, and the bad areas,” Dupont said. “It helps you make decisions you can feel very confident about. Now, instead of changing your mind every 15 rows trying to figure out blanket applications, you can make real good decisions on specific regions in a field.”
Previously there hasn’t been a good way for farmers to deal with the issue of variability in a field. While some areas of the field might be growing too fast, and others too slow, all farmers could do was put an average amount of fertilizer on the entire field. Now there is a better way.
“It is a pretty easy sell,” Dupont said. “All we are doing is showing them the variability they already knew they had. By using remote images, you can see if a crop has gone into stress 10 days to two weeks before you can see it with the eye. You get a jump start on problems. With InTime, farmers can maximize the use of their chemicals by using the right amounts where specifically needed resulting in better, more uniform crops. They are able to get out and pick the crop sooner and get a better quality crop.”
For example, with cotton you might have to put off harvesting because one area of the field has not yet matured for harvest. While you’re waiting, the already open cotton bolls can start to deteriorate. By managing the growth, the crop grows more uniformly. It matures at the same time so the farmer can harvest earlier and potentially end up with better yields and quality.
In the early days of this technology, the idea was to use more chemicals in areas of a field that were doing poorly. Now it is becoming more common to leave them alone.
“We are learning that sometimes a poor yield is all you are going to get out of a certain piece of land, so it is better to move the resources to the more highly productive areas and increase the yields there,” Dupont said. “That is what many farmers are doing with variable rate technology and precision agriculture.”
With pesticides, the technology can be used to specifically target the chemical to where the insects live.
“People are a little scared because they have always done blanket applications for insects,” Dupont said. “But with aerial photographs, you can see things you can’t see through the windshield of the truck. Many crop damaging insects are drawn to the best growing part of a field. Poor areas might not need spraying if there are no bugs present. In the Mississippi Delta, some farms have achieved the same amount of kill with insects and sprayed only 60% of the field. Anyone can see how significant that is.”
Cotton is the “bread and butter” of InTime’s business, but the company also has expanded to do similar services for rice, pistachios, almonds, tomatoes and other different vegetables and specialty crops in California. This past year, about 250,000 acres of land were managed in 10 states: Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, California and Missouri.
In the mid-South, farmers generally start using InTime’s services when they are doing their first application. Some will do only one or two evaluations per season, while another might do seven to 10. It depends on how many applications are planned and how aggressive the farmer wants to be in saving chemicals and maximizing production.
Farmers aren’t necessarily interested in just saving money from purchase of chemicals. Instead, they want to use the same amount of chemicals but apply them more wisely to improve production.
InTime isn’t only helping bring ag in the U.S. into the space age. It is also providing an economic boost to one of the most depressed areas of the country, the Mississippi Delta.
“We have dramatically increased the tax base by hiring people for these high-tech, high-paying jobs,” said Dupont. “We do business in all these other states, but all the pictures we take in those other states are sent over the Internet to our Cleveland office. All of the behind the scenes processing is done here in Mississippi. All that work and money comes back to the state. The technology was born at Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi, and the owner of InTime chose to keep that technology here in Mississippi. We work very closely with Mississippi State, and are very proud of the fact we are in Mississippi.”
InTime is owned by Kenneth Hood, a past president of the Delta Council and the National Cotton Council. Hood is also a client of his own company with his entire cotton farming operation under InTime’s service.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.