ONLY ON 6: Smart Farms - Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

ONLY ON 6: Smart Farms

Farming and ranching is a way of life for many Texomans.  While it's somewhat of a traditional industry, technology is forcing producers to get on board with the digital age. From smartphones and tablets to GPS systems, Newschannel 6 Lindsey Forst is taking a closer look at how technology is changing agriculture in Texoma. 

"Most people are welcome to it, but for some older people like my grandpa, it takes time," Brandon McAlister said.

He is a fourth generation farmer. We met up with the family at their operation headquarters in Wichita County. The McAlisters are among those trying to stay up with the times.  This past year, they installed a new GPS guidance system in a number of their equipment.

It maps each field and drives the tractor itself.  All the farmer has to do is turn it around. The basically hands-free technology is pretty impressive, but more importantly, way more efficient. By working in perfectly straight lines, there's no accidental overlap.

"It doesn't sound like much, but 10% added up over 6,000 acres makes a big difference," Kenneth McAlister said.

The McAlisters forked out about $20,000 for the GPS guidance system. That may sound like a lot, but they already saved about that just this year. Which means, even bigger savings in years to come.  They also, for the first time this year, tried variable rate technology.

"You may have a field that is high in nutrients in some areas and part of a field may not. With variable rate fertilizer, you can get a map of the nutrients and you can apply what you need in that area better," Kenneth said.

Like any advanced technology, there is a price to have a third party come in, sample your soils and set up the system, which is why the McAlisters tested it out on just one field this year. To them, even at a higher cost, it's worth it.

"How many dollars do I have to spend to make a crop, and how many dollars do I spend that's efficient to make a crop?  You're wasting money if you shell out extra fertilizer that you don't need," Kenneth said.

They can't do anything but get better. The money on fuel, seed and chemical, we're saving a ton," Brandon said.

Advanced technology saves farmers more than just money.  For Jonathan Ramirez, it also saves time.

"Now, I can look at my phone and see the humidity hour by hour and not have to get out of bed if it's not high enough," he said.

Farmers used to sleep in the truck out in the field until they thought conditions were right. There were no smartphone apps to tell you the humidity, they would twist a piece of hay and knew it was read when it was moist enough not to break.

"It's come a long way. My great-grandpa started farming in 1923 and used a mule and a plow. It's unbelievable what's out there now just in 10 years its changed a lot," Ramirez said.

Thanks to smartphones and tablets, you can access the weather, commodity prices, even the type of soil your standing on all in the palm of your hand.

"Immediate information.  Yes, it's saving time and money but really it's about immediate access," Stan Beavers said.

Beavers with the Agri Life Extension Office in Vernon, sees nothing but benefits for producers as technology progresses.  The big question, are producers willing to progress with it.

If you're not moving forward, you're backing up because everyone else is moving forward. If you choose not to, you must accept the fact that you're going to be out of business in coming months or years because everyone else is moving forward. If you choose not to they're going to pass you," Beavers said.

There are always new smartphone apps being developed.  Beavers and some of his co-workers are actually working a number of new ones right now. The Agri Life Extension Office has compiled a list of helpful agriculture and horticulture apps available now to producers.  To see it, click here.

Lindsey Forst, Newschannel 6

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