A new mobile app developed at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture may help rice growers save time, money and natural resources throughout Arkansas — and beyond.

The app, released May 11 and named simply “Rice Irrigation,” is designed to assist growers in planning for multiple-inlet rice irrigation, or MIRI, by providing geospatial calculations based on Google Maps satellite imagery and irrigation flow information.

Multiple inlet or side inlet rice irrigation is the practice of using lay-flat poly pipe to distribute water across graded levee rice fields. MIRI can improve yields by as much as 10 bushels per acre, said Christopher Henry, an assistant professor and water management engineer for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. The practice also helps distribute the “cold water effect” and allows for faster, more uniform flooding of rice fields.

The app was co-developed by Henry and Dharmendra Saraswat, associate professor and extension geospatial engineer for the Division of Agriculture., and Christopher Henry, an assistant professor of irrigation engineering for the university in Stuttgart. It is designed for the Android operating system, versions 4.0.3 or later.

Henry said he developed the essential concept for the application after observing the frustration that farmers sometimes experienced in trying to do the measurements and calculations necessary to implement MIRI.

"It has been well documented that MIRI can reduce pumping costs by about 25 percent, saving both energy and water, but there are some challenges with it,” Henry said. “You have to sit down and make a lot of calculations — measuring levees, setting gates, and so on. So, we’ve done all the math for you.”

The app allows users to manually draw the boundaries of their rice fields over images extracted from Google Maps, and determines the approximate area of those fields.  Based on user inputs for the flow rate and capacity of the pump being used to irrigate the field, the app suggests the ideal pipe diameter for efficient irrigation, Saraswat said.

If certain information, such as pump capacity, is unknown, the app can provide default data for calculations. The user can draw levees and pipe layout within the app. The app then uses this and other user-supplied information to suggest the number of polytube rolls necessary for the project and the number of holes that should be punched in the tubes. The app also generates a report in a PDF format that can be saved and emailed.

“A farmer with multiple fields — even if they’re distributed across multiple counties — can generate a consolidated report containing information about all the inputs and recommendations, arranged in a field-by-field basis,” Saraswat said.

The development process for the Android application was primarily funded by the Arkansas Rice Promotion Board, Saraswat said, with the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board providing additional funding.

Saraswat said that the “first draft” of the application was completed in late spring of 2014, when Henry subjected it to internal testing by introducing the app to a group of extension agents and producers to garner feedback through field testing.

“As a result, we’ve incorporated a lot of practical features into this,” Saraswat said. “This is a highly interactive application.”

Henry said he hopes to have an improved and expanded version of the app that will also function on iOS, the operating system used in Apple products including the iPhone and iPad, in 2016.