The Parsons family had what they considered a working method of tracking farm crop records. Varieties, fertilizer rates and plowing dates were all jotted down on one piece of paper per field, then stored in a binder.
But, each year, someone would forget to enter some information, or a paper would go missing.
“Halfway through the season, it’s long gone or unheard of,” says James Parsons. He grows alfalfa, barley, canola and other crops on a 450-acre dairy near Cache Bay, Ontario, just down the road from the 550-acre row-crop farm his parents, John and Janet, own.
After James and his parents attended an ag workshop about the future of smart phones for farming, they hoped to find a recordkeeping replacement. The workshop delved into how mobile applications, or apps, could be used on smart phones, tablets or computers to help manage information.
The Parsons, however, couldn’t find an app for farm recordkeeping. That’s when James’ brother, Don, who works in information technology, told the family he could build one. With the help of a local multimedia firm, CrimsonPepper, he did.
In March, two years after the workshop, Field Tracker Pro went live. An electronic version of the Parsons’ binder system, the app gives users the ability to chart and track information about specific fields in as much detail as they choose.
Field Tracker Pro is now one of hundreds of agriculture-specific apps offering farmers help with nearly every aspect of their operations. Apps can be used to quickly identify weeds, plot soil sample locations or provide the latest research and news. Many major equipment and seed companies have their own apps with dealership and product information.
One app will even call emergency responders if a tractor rolls over.
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Even though farmers make up only 2% of the U.S. and Canadian population and their average age – 57 – is not one smart phone technology is typically marketed toward, the demand for farm apps has increased.
Farmers have discovered how useful they are. Identifying weeds on an app from the field, rather than having to trek back home, saves a grower time. With an innovation like autosteer, farmers have time on tractors to enter data or check weather, says Parsons.
Extension services have also stepped in to help identify the most useful apps and teach farmers how to turn their smart phones from email and phone devices to mobile offices that can increase productivity.
Jackie Smith, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension economist, has helped conduct state workshops giving hands-on instruction of ag apps. In the three years he’s worked with farmers, the focus has shifted from how to use apps to identifying those most worthwhile. He has a student spending numerous hours each week going through new apps and finding the gems.
“We keep the farmers from buying ones that are worthless,” says Smith, who evaluates apps based on cost, productivity and ease of use.
For those looking for apps on their own, the process can be a bit daunting. Apple has more than 400 ag apps in its App Store, and Google has hundreds in its Android operating system store. More apps can be found by searching online.
Parsons recommends searching for specific app websites, instead of browsing stores. His family decided against listing Field Tracker Pro in iTunes because Apple takes a 30% cut of sales. Instead, the app is sold on its own website, farm-apps.com.
Apps that don’t require constant Internet connections to work are a big plus. Service can drop in fields, so it’s useful if an app can save information on the phone or itself, and then later upload that data online. That’s a feature that Adam Retzlaff, account executive at Ken Cook Co., a technical communication company, strives for when developing apps for customers.
“The only time you need to be connected is to initially download (the app) or update it,” Retzlaffsaid at a September talk with ag professionals. “So it doesn’t matter if you’re out in the field or inside a steel structure, you can still access the information.”
For other apps developed for farm operations, visit our photo gallery: "5 Ag Apps You Need To Be Using."
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