LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A Little Rock-based company that makes plastic pipe announced Thursday it is launching a free software program to help farmers in the Mississippi Delta save money by pumping less water.
Delta Plastics owner Dhu Thompson said the Web-based software is based on an earlier piece of software that was difficult to use. The user-friendly version, called Pipe Planner, took four years of work and "millions" of dollars to develop, Thompson said.
The original idea was to charge farmers a licensing fee but Thompson said his company, which also makes plastic bags from recycled waste, is making enough money and he wanted to demonstrate the firm's commitment to sustainability.
The program, if widely adopted, could lead Delta farmers to use at least 20 percent less water by 2020, Thompson said.
When farmers place their above-ground irrigation pipe, they generally drill holes that are all of the same size. The Pipe Planner software guides farmers to drill holes of different sizes so their fields are evenly watered.
"Hole size makes all the difference," Thompson said.
Numerous farming groups, along with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture and Mississippi State University, endorsed the software at an event at the company's plant at the Port of Little Rock on Thursday.
"This is a huge game-changer," Thompson said.
Rodney Baker, executive vice president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said the software can help farmers make better profits by reducing diesel costs for pumping water from aquifers.
Baker took note of the drought in the West and said farmers across the country have to be innovative in how they use water.
"With the H20 initiative, we're pushing farther down that road," Baker said.
Agricultural Council of Arkansas President Rick Bransford said the program will help farmers better use the limited workforce that's available when it's time to roll out irrigation pipe.
"The labor force is not there. The ones you have, you want to make sure they are not killing themselves to get the water we have," Bransford said.
Delta Plastics makes polytube piping for irrigation.