Webcam Wonders

November 9, 2010 09:18 AM

If you’ve ever wanted to be in two or more places at once, now you can. Thanks to cost-efficient webcam technology, you can keep an electronic eye on a host of activities around your farm. “I can get my children ready for bed and see how the corn is unloading all at the same time,” says Eric Blad, a grain farmer near South Bend, Ind.

Blad has seven webcams installed at various locations around his farm buildings and rural home. He can view screens of up to six of the cameras simultaneously via his smartphone. “I can check on something anytime I want, 24 hours a day, without having to drive there,” he says. “That’s especially important during grain harvest.”

Blad believes most farmers can benefit from the technology. A number of configurations are available for on-farm use. The basic setup includes a camera that records video images which you can view online. Along with the camera, you typically need an encoding device, high-speed Internet service and a modem or router for the Internet connection. Because high-speed Internet is not available in many parts of rural America, farmers can opt to use a wireless access card in conjunction with a notebook-style computer.

Hire an expert. “Guys like to use a computer in their truck,” says Lee Lutz, owner of The Dairyman’s LINK (, an agricultural consulting business based in Bliss, N.Y. The company’s standard setup consists of eight webcams, which can be expanded to 16.
“A lot of dairymen watch over parlor procedures and calving pens, and they need multiple cameras,” Lutz says. The basic system retails for approximately $7,000.

While his business is focused on New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, Lutz says farmers from across the U.S. have purchased his system: “I ship it to people and then talk them through the installation process; it’s not difficult.”

Another option for farmers is a wireless, plug-and-play webcam system that only requires cellular phone-line access, which roughly 95% of the U.S. can tap into today. This option, says Jeff Tomlins, owner of, is what most of his customers choose. “You just plug our camera in and you’re up and running five or 10 minutes,” says Tomlins, who is based in Austin, Texas.

“The beauty of this technology is that you can check on your home, livestock and land from any computer in the world,” Tomlins says. He sells the system, which offers pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) camera features, at a base cost of $3,495 for the hardware plus a $335 per month hosting fee. Lease options are also available for short-term projects.

Do it yourself. If you are technically savvy, you can purchase and install a basic webcam setup for roughly $1,000. Most webcams can be mounted with little or no difficulty on a pole, wall or building roof. But there are trade-offs: You will need to do the research to determine the type of equipment best suited to your operation as well as handle all service requirements.

While webcams are available online for less than $50 each, those designed to perform under extreme weather, dirt and moisture conditions typically cost between $200 and $500. Webcams with the latest PTZ features cost more than those that are stationary and record a confined space. Some of the higher-end webcams allow two-way audio from computer to camera, similar to an intercom system.

Tomlins advises that you consider what you want to achieve with the technology before purchasing webcam hardware and software. Livestock, equipment and outbuilding monitoring and home security are common uses.

Other factors to consider are power sources, lighting conditions and the technology support and informational resources available in your area, such as a computer store or self-employed computer technician.

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