Grains Research and Development

Date: 04.03.2013

Cropping – there's an app for that

Author: Richard Heath

A photo of Richard Heath

Richard Heath

A 2012 survey by Grain Growers Ltd found that 56.8 per cent of surveyed grain growers either already owned or were intending to buy a smartphone.

This number corresponds with smartphone ownership in the general population, with more than half of Australians now owning one of these devices. Considering that it is not yet six years since the first iPhone was released, why has there been such rapid and widespread adoption of smartphone technology?

A great deal of the success of smartphones comes down to apps, those nifty, intuitive little pieces of software that turn a phone into something much more than a phone. Both the Apple app store and Google Play now have more than 700,000 apps available for download that go a long way to supporting the new adage that no matter what your need ‘there is an app for that’.

So are any of these apps relevant to growers and to grain growing? The short answer is yes. Growers, due to their well-known requirement to be a true jack-of-all-trades, will find that there are productivity apps for almost every part of their work.

From apps that will advise welder settings, to apps that will identify weeds, apps that will recommend sprayer settings, apps for measuring the area of your paddock, apps that provide a parts diagram for machinery, through to apps that provide a full record-keeping suite for your business.

Many people would look at this list and think there is nothing new in the information that these apps are offering, and to a large extent that is true. The benefit apps offer is not necessarily new information but immediate and convenient access to information and a connected, networked recording capability.

We now have in the palm of our hands access to pretty much all the knowledge humans possess and the ability to add to that knowledge whenever and wherever we feel like it. (The fact that a large proportion of people use this incredible power to look at videos of cats is beside the point.)

There has been farm-management software available for as long as there have been computers. Use of this software has generally necessitated sitting at a computer after a day’s work in the paddocks and battling through a not-very-intuitive experience to enter the day’s activities.

It is no wonder that there has never been overwhelming uptake of this sort of software. Well-designed apps, however, are mainly successful due to one key aspect: they are intuitive and simple to use. Add that to the connectivity and convenience of smartphones and suddenly entering data about a job on the farm can become a relatively painless exercise.

Developers of desktop farm software have reported that both the quantity and quality of information that is being collected by growers jumped significantly when they released smartphone apps to aid in data capture for their programs. This has happened even when there have been existing ways of capturing mobile data on platforms that may have been tricky or unreliable. While the process has not really changed (capture the data then analyse it), the device used for capture has changed and it has made all the difference.

Data capture is becoming easier. An emerging trend is the ability to use tablets or smartphones to interface directly with planter or sprayer controllers to potentially control the controller and to record the application of inputs.

As a result of the connectivity of smartphones, the data captured can be instantly transferred to a database for analysis. Recommendations and prescriptions can also be sent to the field.

Apps and smartphones enable immediate access to appropriate data. They do not necessarily change the basic premise of ‘you have to measure to be able to manage’ but they are providing an opportunity for making the measuring part a bit less painful and a bit more easily integrated into what we do every day.

There is a full range of farm management apps available at various price points and levels of sophistication.

Most of the existing farm-management software providers have smartphone apps to support their products.

PAM (www.fairport.com.au), Back Paddock Company (www.backpaddock.com.au) and Farm Works (www.farmworks.com.au) all have apps available to help with data input for their programs.

Several new app and system developers have also emerged to take advantage of all the possibilities that smartphones, tablets and connectivity provide to develop new management packages based on online storage of data and information. Agworld (www.agworld.com.au) and ProductionWise (www.productionwise.com.au) both offer sophisticated and powerful solutions for recording and analysing farm data.

Another great aspect of apps is that the cost of developing them is within the reach of many small businesses. This has led to a number of farm-management apps being developed by growers or consultants to specifically cater for a need that they have identified in their business. While perhaps not as powerful as some of the apps from more established software providers, they still offer possible solutions that may be perfect for your farm. Some examples of apps in this category are EvoCrop (www.evocrop.com), the EziApp range (www.eziapp.com.au) and F-Track (www.farmapps.com.au).

The GRDC is also developing some of its extension resources as apps, with Weed ID: The Ute Guide the first cab off the rank (www.grdc.com.au/Resources/App-Store). More GRDC products will be available as apps as appropriate opportunities emerge.

A photo of app 'EvoCrop' A screenshot of EziApps' 'Spray'

Apps, from left: Agworld, EvoCrop and Spray by EziApps

More information:

Richard Heath, Innovate Ag Research,
0427 447 872,
richard@innovateagresearch.com.au

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