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Mississippi Delta farmers ready to boost row crop yields while conserving water

  • Mississippi Delta farmers ready to boost row crop yields while conserving water
    C Spire President Stephen Bye (right) and Nick King, CEO of Precision King, discuss an automated irrigation system controller that uses wireless technology to manage water usage at a soybean field near Tchula, Miss.

About the entity

Cellular South Inc. d.b.a. C Spire headquartered in Ridgeland, Mississippi, is the sixth largest wireless provider in the United States

Buoyed by a highly successful Tech Movement pilot program that uses new automated irrigation techniques to boost row crop yields while conserving water, C Spire is ready to expand its partnership with farmers and smart equipment firms to provide network and information technology support for precision agriculture applications.

Precision King and JF Phillips Farm teamed up with C Spire, a Mississippi-based telecommunications and technology firm, last year to test the approach on row crops in Tchula and Louise to determine if the new automated furrow-style irrigation techniques could increase selected row crop yields, conserve precious groundwater resources and increase per-acre net revenue for farmers.

The proof-of-concept trial is part of the C Spire Tech Movement initiative, launched in 2017 and designed leverage the company's technology leadership and investments to help transform its service areas.  Precision agriculture, smart farming and the agricultural Internet of Things (IoT) are key elements of its focus on technology innovation to move the state forward.

The final test results on over 130 acres of crops using the first fully automated furrow-style irrigation solution show that yields rose and net revenue per acre for soybeans jumped by $94.90 and by $24.92 per acre for corn while water usage declined by up to 27 percent for soybeans and up to 55 percent for corn, according to Nick King, president of Yazoo City-based PrecisionKing. 

PrecisionKing plans a commercial introduction of the service in time for the 2019 growing season, King said, noting that an optimal watering schedule helps retain nitrogen content in the soil, boosting yields and dramatically reducing water usage.  "We've cracked the code on how to increase yields, save water and help farmers achieve higher profits," he added.

"We're really encouraged by the results that showed a dramatic decrease in water usage – about 15 million gallons – with increased yields and profits," said Jack Phillips, owner of JF Phillips Farms, a row crop farming operation in the lower Mississippi Delta.  "There are a lot of variables in growing these crops, but this solution controls risk and manages the resources to produce great results."

C Spire President Stephen Bye said the new automated system for row crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton use moisture sensors monitored from a computer, smartphone or tablet that relies on strong wireless coverage to relay critical performance and analytical data.  "We're excited to support an expansion of precision farming practices."

Agriculture is Mississippi's leading industry sector and its reliance on water, particularly in the farm-rich Delta region, has led to declining groundwater levels and worries about depletion of its deep groundwater alluvial aquifers.  Gov. Phil Bryant and other state leaders and federal agencies formed a task force in 2014 to address the problem and develop solutions.

Recent research shows that precision farming practices and Internet of Things systems can increase yields by up to 15 percent and revenue by $100,000 annually for a typical 1,000-acre farm.  "We need to do more with less and IoT technology-based innovations will help farmers deliver on that precision agriculture promise," King said.

Mississippi has more than 36,200 farms covering 10.7 million acres, much of it in the Delta, producing products ranging from cattle to catfish, poultry to pecans and horses to horticulture, according to the Mississippi Development Authority. The industry sector employs 29 percent of the state's workers and generates over $6.7 billion annually for the state's economy.

"We have the resources, partnerships and professional expertise to help farmers be successful as they transition from a labor-intensive, high-risk, low-reward industry to one that relies on 21st century technology to feed the world and conserve our precious natural resources," Bye said.  "Automation and analytics are the key factors that will help us deliver on that promise."

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