With existing and coming herbicide tolerant crops there is a rising potential for chemical application mishaps. Arkansas producers are being urged to consider a free computer program to reduce those risks.
Agricultural engineer Dharmendra Saraswat is among those at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service that developed the program. He spoke to Delta Farm Press in late September.
On the program’s genesis:
“The flag the technology cloud (FTTCloud) program was launched last April, 2014, and is currently used by hundreds in Arkansas.
“The precursor to FTTCloud was initially launched in Clay County in 2010 -- but under a different name: Color Identifies the Field Technology (CIFT). Following the initial success, the program was launched statewide in 2011 and renamed ‘Flag the Technology.’ The changed name directly conveyed program’s focus on use of color coded flags to aid farmers in identifying which fields they are planting to what herbicide-tolerant technology.
“In subsequent years, Flag the Technology program also brought forth some unanticipated challenges. During the summertime, as farmers know very well, there are often gusts of wind. Those would sometimes pull the flags out of the ground and take them all over the place.
“In some cases, there were also mischievous people who would intentionally move the flags around.
“Obviously, movement of flags would be a cause of concern for chemical applicators. That’s perfectly understandable. ‘What if we rely on the flags and spray a product that injures the crop?’”
On the switch to a digital program…
“Due to these concerns we began considering how we could keep the program but ‘flag’ fields in a different way. In discussions with some county agents and forward-looking consultants and producers it was decided to launch a digital version of Flag the Technology program.
“The digital version doesn’t store any information on any of university servers. To provide quality experience to the current and potential users, the program has been hosted on a scalable cloud platform.
“The digital version, FTTCloud, retains the simplicity of its field-based precursor.
“Producers, consultants and chemical applicators can all participate after registering an account. The participation is voluntary. A registered producer can allow his/her consultant or chemical applicator to access complete information about entered fields by following certain protocol. The other registered users are provided essential information about herbicide technologies reported nearby or in the target field as new information is added to the program.
“Producers can either manually draw or upload field boundary data in shapefile format and then interactively assign an individual field or a group of fields to herbicide-tolerant technology of their choice. The program assigns a color to the field based on selected technology. Fields with stacked technologies are also assigned colors, using a protocol slightly different from the field version of the program.
“The FTTCloud tool also allows users to identify other sensitive areas such as pumpkin patches, bee hives, fish ponds, vineyards etc., thereby not limiting its use to only those interested in row crops.
“Participation is free and the whole effort is being funded by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board.”
Savings and data safety
On the digital program savings…
“When using actual flags, fields require an average of five flags. That is at a cost of about $25. If someone has 100 fields in herbicide-tolerant technology, that means an expense of $2,500. However, use of FTTCloud program costs nothing.”
An estimate on how much crop damage has been reduced through the use of the flags?
“That’s a good question. The program is aimed at avoiding risks. An erroneous chemical application can almost ruin an entire field. So, you’re protecting a field that can be worth several thousand dollars to, in some cases, six figures.”
On the safety of farmers’ data…
“Misuse of online information is an obvious fear in the minds of many and farmers are no exception. The FTTCloud program explicitly recognizes that all the information entered belongs to the producer. The university has no role in accessing it. The information is encrypted and then stored on the cloud platform.
“Towards the end of each year, we will send emails to those who registered an account. That will remind them to download their information for next year’s use. We don’t encourage archiving the information since the university wants to limit its role to providing educational means for chemical risk aversion.”