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.
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.
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