Whether a person loves them or hates them, cell phones are an integral part of our lives now. They have become so much more than a phone that we need to find a new name for these devices; cell phone just doesn’t cover it any more. These are super-computers that put tremendous power right in the palm of our hand.
There’s been an explosion of programs or apps that take advantage of all that computing power. They put all of the world’s knowledge within reach of anyone who asks for it, at a moment’s notice. Taking advantage of the things this amazing device can do is becoming second nature for all of us.
In the past, apps were developed for either Android or Apple devices, since they use very different operating systems (it’s like the difference between gas and diesel engines). However, now apps are usually developed for both systems, so that is less of a problem.
There are numerous general-interest type apps that farmers can use to make their lives simpler. These are the banking, travel, shopping, health, and news apps that we share with the rest of the online world. These are plentiful. But the apps that are specifically useful for the agricultural community have been slow to arrive on the market. That’s beginning to change, as companies that serve agriculture begin to explore how to use these new tools.
Apps we use:
Weather Apps. Weather is a critical force in our lives. We need to keep on top of what it’s doing, and going to do for the next few days. My personal favorite is Wunderground and related apps. It’s the software for Weather Underground, which is a company that ties together hundreds of local personal weather stations as well as government stations. This provides detailed weather data and storm tracking down to the local neighborhood. They also provide highly accurate weather predictions; if Wunderground says the rain will start at 2:00, better put on your rain gear by 1:59.
But of course, we always need to double-check our sources, so I also use weather.com. Their storm radar is accurate. Damaging storms are clearly identified and tracked with a high degree of confidence.
Craigslist. It’s a Love/Hate relationship at best. Lots of people use it, most safely, but the occasional nightmare transaction happens. Be aware of scammers and thieves who use Craigslist to find their next victim. Many police and sheriff departments now have safety zones where people can meet to complete their Craigslist sale or purchase. If you’re buying or selling an item of significant value, you should meet the other party at one of those safe zones or at your bank, to keep the transaction safe.
Tractor House. A farmer always needs more equipment. Even if you don’t, it doesn’t hurt to look, right? Tractor House has a nicely made app that shows you greatly used tractors by John Deere, Case, Ford, or any other brand you might want. Machinery Pete doesn’t have a specific app, but the website is phone-friendly and with a good internet connection you will get the info you need without turning on your desktop. Just type the web address (www.machinerypete.com) in your browser.
Worth checking out:
Farm Manager Apps.
If you’ve outgrown the notebooks you’ve kept for years to track when you did what to your fields, it's time to look at farm management applications. It’s early days for these apps, so some may have bugs or may have a bit of a learning curve. Others are slickly built and promise to make your life easier with simplified record keeping, complete notes on your crops, and quick access to the information you need in the field to make good decisions.
Farm At Hand
This is a free app, developed by a Canadian farmer for use by grain crop farmers. It seems adaptable to any crop, and would be just as useful for a California nut grower or a cattle operation. The app allows the user to set the parameters being tracked and adapt it to their specific operation. They claim the app “keeps you organized, efficient and productive all year long by capturing key field data. Track all field activities like planting, spraying, scouting, harvesting and more using your smartphone, tablet devices or computer.” The app will also allow you to download reports (Fields, Planting, Spraying) for crop insurance, agronomists and market consultants. The app also lets you keep detailed records of your equipment – model, serial number, purchase price, etc.– as well as maintenance records and all part numbers in one place.
Ag Guardian tackles another record keeping problem by keeping track of your expenses on a per field basis. You create your record for each field, then as you purchase the inputs for that field, you create a record of who you called for the input, the price quoted, amount applied, and the applicator that applied it. Then when the bills come in you can easily compare the actual bill to the quote provided.
The app was created by an Arkansas farmer who grew tired of working through stacks of tickets to see where the money was going, and never being sure the inputs were billed correctly without conducting a lot of tedious office work. The app automates the process, and does so simply and easily.
This app helps you check your fields or orchards. It creates a record as you walk your fields and easily record notes and photos inside the app. Your observations are automatically geo-tagged and time-stamped for easy retrieval and viewing through both mobile and web-based portals. You can give observations a severity rating to prioritize problems. While created for grain crop growers, it appears to be useful for other crops as well.
Apps we want:
ID Weeds. and pests. This seems like a natural subject for an app. To create an app that follows a decision tree to identify a weed or insect should be child’s play. So why hasn’t someone created one for California farmers? It has been done for the United Kingdom, the upper midwestern US, and the state of Missouri, but no one has created an app to identify weeds pests found in California yet. However, the state Department of Food and Agriculture has a very extensive database of weeds online with hundreds of weed photos and information. Search on your desktop computer for “Encycloweedia” to find this resource.
The list of apps grows daily. Several manufacturers are using apps as product manuals now. Some apps, inevitably, bite off more than they can chew and are a waste of time, money and data. Others, however, fulfill the promise to save time and money by making your job easier and your work more efficient. While it is an investment of time and effort to download and work with an app, you’ll soon find the ones that fit your operation. The effort will pay off in the long term.