PumpTrakr Farmer Creates 21st-Century Solution To Age-Old Problem

 Nathan Holmes created his PumpTrakr app in order to manage a far-flung network 
 of pumps, including those used for this crawdad pond.
 Photo credit by Jim McCarty


   Farmers are the world’s biggest gamblers. They plant their seeds, then hope for enough moisture – but not too much. Those plowing the fertile ground wherever the water table is close to the surface hedge their bets with irrigation.
   Pumps powered by electric or diesel motors pull the water to the surface and spread it out on the fields. Timing is everything. Getting it to the plants in the right amount and at the proper time can lead to a bumper crop and higher profits. But keeping track of a far-flung network of pumps and irrigation units can be a daunting task.
   That was the case for Oran farmer and SEMO Electric Cooperative member Nathan Holmes. He recalls sitting at his computer desperately searching for a 21st-century solution to the problem of being in multiple places at the same time.
   Nathan’s quest came from a particularly stressful year when flooding caused several rounds of replanting at Holmes Farm. The five-person crew that runs the farm was spread between planting beans, flushing rice, spraying and trying to keep the pumps running on a 2,700-acre farm that is entirely irrigated and includes crawdad and catfish ponds.
   “I drove myself crazy,” he admits. “The whole ball of wax was so much to handle. I thought, ‘someone has to make something better than this.’    And that’s what prompted my search.”
   His efforts fell on barren ground – but led to him developing an app that makes life much easier for farmers.
   What Nathan wanted was a way to share information the way it is done today in many other industries. For example, at the end of a day he had to sit down with employees and quiz them on what fields had been watered, how long the pumps ran, whether the tanks needed more fuel and anything that might need repairs.
   Farmers seek precision in their operations today in order to cut costs and make the most on a bushel of whatever they are growing. “Precision is great, but the more you go for precision the more your management goes up,” Nathan says. “If you can do it perfectly, think of how much money you can save. But you can’t do it perfectly with five people on 3,000 acres because there’s not enough hours in the day.”
   Armed with the knowledge learned from two college computer classes he took and a book on coding, Nathan created Version 1 of the app he now calls PumpTrakr. He then turned his efforts over to Cape Girardeau app developer Codefi to apply the finishing touches.
   The process sped up dramatically when GoSEMO Fiber, the internet company launched by SEMO Electric, connected Nathan’s shop with high-speed service. This allowed him to work with the Codefi without traveling to Cape Girardeau.
   The result is precision management of farm irrigation never before possible. From his cell phone, Nathan can see at a glance all aspects of his far-flung wells. Push notifications tell him which wells are running and alert him to any problems.
   Once set up, a pump that has an issue can not only signal the problem, it also can tell a farmer the battery is dead and he or she might need to bring jumper cables to the field. Better yet, the app can send a list of parts required to the nearest parts store, which can dispatch a driver to the farm with what is needed.
   The same technology alerts when a tank is running low and can quickly schedule a fuel truck. Even a new driver can find the pump, because the app includes GPS coordinates for each well.
   The information gathered by the app can be used to plan next year’s planting. For example, farmers using the app can tell exactly how much it cost to irrigate the rice crop or compare inputs on corn grown in sandy soil versus that grown on gumbo.                      
   Nathan says PumpTrakr has ended the confusion that once plagued his operation. “It’s a passing of the baton of information,” he says. His helpers used to end their day with a lengthy “interrogation” on what had been done. “They come in now and say, ‘Nate, I’m going home. Everything I’ve done is on PumpTrakr,’ ” Nathan says.
   After months of testing on local farms, the cloud-based technology is now being offered to farmers who can start with just the app or add hardware that greatly extends its capabilities. It works with diesel or electric-powered pumps. The entire package is designed for future upgrades which Nathan is already planning.
   “This platform can be applied to more than one thing on the farm,” he says. “It can be applied to a lot of things farmers do on a daily basis.”
   For more information on PumpTrakr, visit www.pumptrakr.com or call 573-579-0335. ∆
   JIM MCCARTY: Editor, Rural Missouri
   Note: Reprinted with permission of Rural Missouri

 With little experience in computer programming, Nathan still managed to create Version I of the app in order to  
 demonstrate the concept before turning it over to app developer Codefi for the finishing touches.

 Photo credit by Jim McCarty
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