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Agriculture is key to our state's economy, culture, and history. It is our leading industry with roughly $16 billion contributed to the Natural State economy each year. With rice, soybeans, cotton, corn, cattle, and wheat, we at Arkansas Public Media pledge to report on issues that impact not just this industry, but this leading way of life in our state.

App Aims to Ease Harvest Fire Concerns

Ann Kenda
Residue is burned off a field in Mississippi County in 2017.

When Arkansas State University assistant professor of digital design Joe Ford noticed that both he and his 3-year-old daughter were getting ill from smoke every autumn, he started wondering whether his design skills could help.

Ford teamed up with associate professor of physics Ross Carroll to build an agricultural burning app that helps farmers measure wind speed and direction and other factors to quickly determine whether a burn is safe or should wait for another day.

In Arkansas, the burning of residue from a row crop is legal, but the smoke draws complaints from communities about health risks, the distinctive odor and temporarily blocked highways.  In November, the rice industry offered voluntary smoke management guidelines to help ease the tension between communities and farmers. 

Ford and Carroll said their ag burn app, which is largely based on those voluntary guidelines, isn’t meant as adversarial but as an aid to help farmers choose the best times and situations to burn and minimize the effects of the smoke.  They said their team understands the financial and physical reasons why farmers have to burn residue from their fields as opposed to tilling and hopes to assist farmers with the app, which can be used from smartphones and tablets.

“Farming is a tech industry now,” Ford noted.

Arkansas State University professors Joe Ford, left, and Ross Carroll, creators of a new agricultural burning app.

He  said the app has been welcomed by the farmers who’ve helped test an initial, simple version.

“They’ve told me explicitly that no one really wants to burn.  It’s stressful for them to burn because they know that if the wind shifts on them, it’s going to be a problem for somebody,” he said.

Lauren Waldrip Ward, a rice industry representative, said there’s been a lot of interest so far in cooperation with the voluntary guidelines.  She said this autumn has been a lot less smoky, due to a combination of the effects of the guidelines and the rainy weather preventing or delaying a lot of burning.

“We’ve seen a decrease in what’s typical for the season,” Ward said.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media's reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

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