Mobile Scouting and Soil Sampling Tools

October 27, 2012 01:08 PM
Mobile Scouting and Soil Sampling Tools

Scouting and soil sampling on steroids

Some mobile apps try to contort themselves into a digital Swiss army knife, bent on becoming a onestop shop for everything. Others focus on one feature, and do it better.

That attitude inspired Iowa State University (ISU) student Michael Koenig to improve the scouting process. Koenig was tired of dealing with pocket manuals and easily misplaced paper forms.

"After experiencing crop scouting myself, I wanted to improve the process and make it easier to make management decisions," he says.

So began a college class project with two other ISU seniors, Holden Nyhus and Stuart McCulloh, that has since blossomed into a fully functional iPad crop scouting app. Although Koenig is still a senior at ISU, his app already has financial backing and several pending improvements for 2013. (A partnership with Greenbook to include product label information is one example.)


Detailed reports. The app allows farmers to browse a gallery of common insects and weeds, with information about each pest. While they are physically scouting, they can access this information, pull up a map of their field and set geolocated pins.

Each pin then becomes a digital scouting report, where farmers can take notes on pest pressures, populations and any other observations they care to include. They can even take photos of the problem area.

"Farmers really like the ability to have an easy way to generate reports and e-mail them right from the field," Koenig says.

More farming apps have adopted this exact strategy—take a production process, digitize it and  make it easier to use, more accessible and ultimately more useful. That’s the thinking behind
apps such as FarmLogic, which some people have described as "soil sampling on steroids."

Users begin by accessing a map of their field. The app allows them to lay down a grid in up to  five-acre increments and populates that grid with geolocated pins. Farmers then travel to each pin and collect soil samples, bagging them up in numbered bags that FarmLogic provides.

"You pull samples and play connect-the-dots, basically," says Brandon Cavins, FarmLogic sales manager.

Then farmers send the samples away for analysis, which is e-mailed back long with fertility  recommendations from FarmLogic. These "recipes" can also be easily transported to the tractor cab using a USB drive. There is a one-time setup fee and an additional per-acre fee, but Cavins says the system pays for itself after 500 acres of use.

Kyle Schminke, who farms in central Iowa, says he now collects his own soil samples because of this system. He accesses it on a Trimble Nomad (because it is "more rugged") mounted to an ATV so he can easily drive to all of the pins on his map.

"You don’t need an owner’s manual," he says. "It’s that simplistic."

A lot of Schminke’s soil sampling strategy remains the same, he says. He  still pulls multiple cores at each location to acquire the most accurate sample then sends the samples to a lab for analysis.
The difference is in the back-end functionality, he says—the ability to keep better records and build variable-rate maps for fertilizer placement.

Schminke says his local co-op used to pull soil samples for him, but he doesn’t mind the extra work that smartphone soil sampling requires.

"It’s a process that takes time, but I make the time," he explains. "You really get a different perspective when you get out of the tractor and walk your ground.

"The exercise probably doesn’t hurt, either," he jokes.

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