Did you know that there are smartphone applications to make you a better manager? It’s true! A new social media tool called foursquare allows you to keep information about your employees, harvest crews, machinery and records at your fingertips.
Foursquare is a location-based mobile platform that makes cities easier and more interesting to explore. By "checking in" via a smartphone app or SMS, users share their location with friends. People bookmark information about venues that they want to visit, and merchants and brands use tools to obtain, engage and retain customers.
When it comes to production agriculture, foursquare virtually allows you to be where your employees and machinery are via a secure account. This is especially important for larger-acreage producers, who often spend more time managing their business and employees than working in the fields themselves.
Through GPS and SMS messaging, foursquare will keep you in the loop. With a quick text message, your crews can tell you which field they are in and what they are doing. This information is compiled in your foursquare account, which you can access at any time via your smartphone or computer, allowing you to access up-to-the-minute information regarding the status of field work.
Foursquare can be applied on the farm in several areas, including harvest, irrigation, record keeping and people management.
Among the producers who have embraced this new technology is Jeff Fowle, a California cattle rancher. Fowle has been working with the developers of foursquare to make the technology more "farm friendly."
"Hopefully, soon we will be able to check in to fields based solely on GPS location," he says.
Nebraska corn producer Brandon Hunnicut used foursquare during harvest to "check in" and "check out" of a field and log how long it took to harvest. He thinks there is a lot of potential to expand the usefulness of foursquare in production agriculture.
Harvest. Fowle uses foursquare for several purposes on his ranch, including custom hay harvesting.
"Our foremen are all set up with foursquare accounts, enabling their crews to notify them when they arrive at a field," Fowle says. For example, Joe is at Field 4 with a swather; Randy is at Field 5 with a rake.
"Because we have moisture sensors and weather sensors sending their data to our cell phones, we can determine from a remote location when it is time to start baling," Fowle says. "This means I don’t have to set foot in each field each time."
He says it’s also great from a management perspective because he can go back and see which fields took the longest and try to figure out how to save time putting up the next cutting.
During 2010’s corn harvest, Hunnicut used foursquare to simply track what was going on where. Knowing there are other ways to benefit from the technology, he’s in the process of coming up with specific applications to keep better records of how his crops progress during the growing season. This will allow him to reference the pictures after harvest to help make more effective management decisions.
"There have been some changes made on the Android app for foursquare that allow you to better access pictures," Hunnicut says. "So I’m thinking that this year I will be able to take more pictures of what’s going on at a given time."
Because all photos are time stamped by foursquare and compiled in one place on the computer, it will be easier for Hunnicut to compare field photos and stages of production.
Irrigation. In order for crops to reach their potential, irrigation is becoming increasingly necessary. For Hunnicut, keeping tabs on numerous center-pivot irrigation systems and the four employees who monitor them can be time-consuming and confusing. He thinks foursquare can help.
"We’ve been trying to figure out how to best manage the idea of everybody making sure the pivots are checked and what position they are in," Hunnicut says.
This summer, he plans to have his employees check in using foursquare each time they visit a pivot to see what position it is in and monitor its performance. This will allow him to log specific times to track which fields take the longest to water, assist with irrigation efficiency and enhance communication with his employees.
There is potential for better water management in flood-irrigated operations as well. Fowle uses ditch irrigation, and most of his diversions are constant. As an example of how foursquare could help, if all the ditch users checked in when they received the water and the next farmer in line knew that the guy ahead of him usually uses three hours of water, he would have a better idea of what time the irrigation water will arrive at his diversion.
People management. This type of remote management could be very helpful for large producers whose acres are spread across several miles. Former Top Producer of the Year Donny DeLine, of Charleston, Mo., says foursquare could be a beneficial tool for a producer like him who has acres spread across four states and often spends more time on the road than in the field.
"It would be very helpful if I could know where my guys are all the time," DeLine says.
Most of Hunnicut’s fields are in a seven-mile radius, but he sees the benefits of foursquare when it comes to communication. "You could utilize it to know what is going on or to make decisions where everyone could see it at one time, instead of having to fuss with radios," he says.
During busy times, such as planting and harvest, keeping track of time cards can be difficult, but foursquare can help this problem.
"With custom haying, sometimes it’s a 72-hours-straight job," Fowle says. "Time cards aren’t always accurate. With foursquare, you can see that your crew was in this field at this time."
Fowle says he often cross-checks between foursquare and time cards to ensure accuracy.
With improving cell phone coverage in rural America and continued app development, smartphones are an emerging farm business tool. Learn more at www.foursquare.com.