Find In-Season, High-Tech Helpers

June 13, 2016 02:24 PM
Find In-Season, High-Tech Helpers

Like so many other farmers, consultants and Extension educators, Nathan Mueller rarely heads out to the fields he’s about to scout without bringing along his smartphone.

Mueller, an Extension cropping systems educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has tried dozens of apps and other mobile friendly tools to make his job. He has picked up a few favorites along the way.

One of his iPhone’s native photo apps is particularly handy, he says.

“If you’re hopping from field to field, this helps you take photos of the pests or other problems you see and sort them spatially,” he says.

For more robust scouting, try an app called “Field GPS,” Mueller suggests. While farmers pay thousands of dollars for the expectation of sub-inch GPS accuracy from the tractor cab, their phone’s GPS is accurate to within a few feet – good enough for most scouting purposes. Field GPS helps users to geotag a problem spot in a field, take notes and photos, and email it to themselves or advisors as a .CSV file for easy transfer into their precision ag software.

It may pay to remember your smartphone’s Swiss Army Knife potential, Mueller adds.

Various apps can help transform it into any number of tools, including a calendar, flashlight or level. And in the field, another simple tool – the click counter – can add another layer of field scouting functionality to your smartphone, he says.

“You can save counts on this app,” he says. “When you’re counting soybeans, for example, use it to store your counts instead of trying to keep track in a notebook as you go.”

Some universities, including Texas A&M University and Kansas State University, have curated extensive lists of farming apps on their websites. K State has an impressive list of 100 total farming apps, divided into 10 categories.

Ignacio Ciampitti, K-State Extension agronomist, says building this list has led to many good finds. There are various crop guides, weed ID apps, growing degree tools and other mobile widgets that are easy to access from a smartphone or tablet.

Ciampitti offers two points of advice. First, make sure your team is using the same set of apps in the field. For example, there are several yield estimate apps available – if your operation is split among two or three of them, scouts may be bringing back apples-to-oranges comparisons.

Second, understand the pros and cons of each app. Ciampitti says most apps fall into one of two categories. They either have “pinpoint” capabilities to do one thing really well, or they tend to be more generic but perform four or five functions.

“There can be a tradeoff,” he says. “It depends on how much you want to use each app and how many total apps you want to use.”

Also be aware of which apps require GPS or Internet connectivity, he adds.

“Apps that need it may be more relevant, but they might not work in remote areas,” he says.

The K-State app list will probably always be a work in progress, Ciampitti admits.

“We went back and started using a lot of these apps ourselves,” he says. “Some are really handy, but some were a bit painful to use, so we want to refine the list and see what’s most useful.”

Ciampitti recommends what most in his position do – seek out these curated lists, try a few apps (most are free), keep the ones that are most useful and discard the rest.

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