October 10, 2001 | By: Laura Skillman
MURRAY, Ky.

Down a small rural road, inside a converted tobacco barn, a Kentucky-born company is working to connect agriculture and technology together to aid farmers in understanding and gaining financially from precision agriculture.

Rick Murdock and Pete Clark founded AgConnections in Dec. 1998 and today the company has clients in about 20 states. A second barn has been moved to the site to be renovated for the growing company.

The two men developed expertise in geographical information systems while employed in the retail agriculture market. They developed a program for their customers while still in the retail industry that assisted farmers with technologies such as installing yield monitors, getting a global positioning system signal and other groundwork, Murdock said.

That launched them into managing data on 130,000 acres. Since the retail business included seed, fertilizer and chemical sales, they were always interested in going back to the customer with data showing the reason to plant a particular variety.

Ultimately, the two decided to strike out on their own.

"Our success then and our success now is that we take the information and do something with it," Murdock said. "We don't just take it to the grower and say now what do you want to do with it?"

That's the main thing, Clark said.

"Originally in this industry with this technology, everyone was so focused on fertility and fertility alone and we didn't start that way," he said. "We started on the yield monitor side to be able to analyze anything we did to that field. The yield monitor gives us a scorecard to be able to see what was going on. Then we moved into other areas outside of that.

"Everyone was so focused on equipment that the grower was having a hard time finding the value in that," he said.

AgConnections uses software, their own research and information gathered from clients to show growers the difference between how conventional and new technology methods can impact a field's productivity.

"The whole concept of exposing the value of the information garnered through the use of technology to the growers is what AgConnections focuses on," Murdock said.

Software is an important aspect of their business, Murdock said. They have designed a program that operates from inside other companies' GIS programs. This program launches the AgConnections crop calculator that allows farmers to develop a business plan from the farm, field and crop levels.

All inputs for a field are put into the crop calculator. The advantage to growers, Murdock said, is that it allows them to use what inputs they need, keep records of where those inputs are, and be able to demonstrate back to the end user what they've used and where they've used it. It also does cost figures for the farm and can generate reports based on crops.

They are working on a secured web site where farmers place their information and share it with manufacturers, lenders and others. The farmer will control access to his information.

The company has collaborated with the University of Kentucky, Murray State University and the University of Florida on research efforts. Murdock's family also is in the production side of agriculture and they use their land along with other farms to conduct some of their own research.

AgConnections is working with Tom Mueller, a UK College of Agriculture soils scientist. "Dr. Mueller wanted us to do some trials because we had the equipment and the way of putting it together," Murdock said. "He outlined how he wanted the trials done and we went and did it."

Mueller's research focuses on the electrical conductivity of soil. He's looking at yield potentials and conductivity and tying it to using variable rate fertilizer and planting applications. The work also is looking at the relationship between conductivity and fragipan in the soils and depth of top soil in other parts of the state.

Murdock has a conductivity sensor and has checked the electrical conductivity of his land, Mueller said. The land also has been checked by UK for conductivity.

Two other aspects at the Calloway County company that can't be found on many farms are they also are doing variable rate seeding and nitrogen applications, Mueller said.

"You can imagine who much easier it is for me working with someone with variable rate application." Mueller said. "For me, AgConnections is like having a research station that has all the precision ag capabilities."

Mueller said he has also worked with AgConnections, Murray State and NASA with hyperspectral sensing to look at varying nitrogen rates in corn using remote sensing. He said they are doing the experimentation using some sensing information provided by Spectral Visions, which does the hyperseptral sensing for NASA.

Mueller said like Clark and Murdock, he wants what he does to be relevant, important and meaningful to the farmer and to add value to Kentucky and the producers.

"Otherwise if all we do is academic, then I don't think we've accomplished anything," he said.

The collaborative effort allows Mueller to utilize AgConnections expertise in technology as well as its equipment and land. While for AgConnections, Murdock said working with the universities helps them to validate their theories and ideas.

"We want to make sure our science is right," he said. "We want that validation process of some of our ideas."

Contact: 

Rick Murdock and Pete Clark, (270) 435-4369; Tom Mueller, (859) 257-8887