Smart farming - data banks at your fingertips

Image of Insect ID: The Ute Guide app

The GRDC's Ute Guide App: Insect ID

One of my childhood memories is of my father on our Queensland beef property meticulously recording inputs, stocking rates and rainfall in the notebook that lived in his Hard Yakka pocket.

Fast forward to 2013, and these trusty, dusty notebooks are rapidly being replaced on farms across the nation by trusty, dusty plastic electronic devices.

Enter the smartphone. Smartphone technology delivers advanced computing ability to certain devices (for example, Apple, Android™, Blackberry and Microsoft devices), turning your mobile phone or tablet into a portable decision-support tool.

As well as standard device features such as email, camera and calculator, users can download apps, which are mini programs with specific functions. For example, farming apps are available to assist with weed control and variety selection, to monitor weather and record inputs and yield.

On-farm technology such as GPS and in-cab systems are already prevalent, so it is no surprise growers have integrated portable e-technology into farm management. In fact, when grain grower co-operative CBH surveyed members this year, it found twice as many growers are using tablets and smartphones to help run their business in 2013 compared with 2012.

What insect is that?

The GRDC’s Ute Guides are escaping the glove box and going high-tech.

The GRDC recently released three new apps for Insect ID, Winter Cereal Nutrition
and Field Peas (see Ground Cover Direct on page 40), which join the existing
Weed ID app as reference tools that are even more portable than their
paper predecessors.

The GRDC’s webmaster Nikki Watson unveiled the Insect ID app in July at
the 2013 GrainGrowers Innovation Generation conference in Geelong, Victoria.

“The GRDC has provided a digital library of fact sheets, Ground Cover and
other publications for years now, so the next logical step is putting that digital
library in growers’ pockets with a free mobile application,” she said.

“With the growing uptake of smartphone technology in agriculture, why carry
five or more hard copies of our glove box ute guides when you can have
them all in one device?

“And it’s not only about convenience. Previously, when the GRDC released
new research, growers either had to go and buy a new publication or keep the
old version and miss out on the benefits of new information. But with apps,
you can get the latest research findings with the touch of a button.”

The GRDC Insect ID app allows growers to:

  • take a photo and compare it with the app’s image library;
  • email photos to an agronomist or local pest specialist;
  • download content and image updates; and
  • save time with predictive text.

To date, the GRDC Weed ID app has been downloaded almost 5000 times
since January 2013, and the Insect ID app more than 300 times.

All four GRDC Ute Guide apps are freely available for AndroidTM, iPhone and iPad.
Visit for more information or search for ‘GRDC’ in the App
Store or on Google Play.


This uptake was evident when I spoke to growers about how and why they use this technology. They talked to me. They emailed me. They took a crop photo and ‘texted’ it to their agronomist. They checked the weather radar. They identified a weed. They calculated chemical mix rates. All on their phone, while standing out in the paddock.

GRDC webmaster Nikki Watson is enthusiastic about the role of e-technology in agriculture: “We see growers of all ages eager to incorporate mobile technology into their farming business,” she says.

“The best thing about e-technology is that once you are comfortable choosing and using apps, you can download tools for all aspects of your business.

“Farming apps are not limited to variety selection, commodity pricing or input recording. You can download apps that turn your phone into a spirit level or a torch, or that let you monitor the weather, connect to social media, improve office work and access news from your favourite media outlet.”

With a lack of Australian-focused alternatives, growers are driving demand for apps, so the GRDC is active in the digital space, creating apps and funding app development.

“But it’s not only organisations such as the GRDC or agricultural businesses that are developing apps,” Ms Watson says.

Feeling APPrehensive?

Use this checklist to determine if an app will work for your business.

  • Is the app compatible with your device (iPhone, iPad, AndroidTM or other)?
  • Is it free or does it have a one-off payment of annual subscription fee?
  • Will it enhance an aspect of your day-to-day management, or just waste time?
  • If phone service is an issue, can the app operate without connection?
  • Can you back-up data from the app to your desktop computer?
  • Is it applicable to Australia? If not, remember units and terminology may differ.
“Just look at Western Australian grower Mic Fels, who won the 2013 GRDC and Australian Year of the Farmer Grain Inventors awards. Mic is designing a yield forecasting smartphone app, iPaddock: proof that anyone with an idea and capital can develop their own e-tech tools.”

Get clicky

Find the right app for the job.

A GRDC-funded research project, run by the South East Premium Wheat Growers Association (SEPWA) in 2012, revealed high adoption rates of smartphones and tablet devices by the WA grains industry, with 69 per cent of participants using smartphones or tablets. Most growers use Apple devices, prefer free apps backed by word-of-mouth recommendations and, not surprisingly, favour weather apps.

“The number of farming and mapping apps has skyrocketed, and capabilities and functionality are also continually being improved,” SEPWA project officer Tywen Dawe says. “This is by far the most rapidly evolving technology sphere agriculture has contact with, and with it comes the opportunity to improve information management of farm businesses.”

More information:

Nikki Watson,
02 6166 4500,

In the next issue of Ground Cover, Rebecca Jennings will look at record keeping on the run using mobile devices to collect farm data.


Three growers across the country talk about their use of new e-tools


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GRDC Project Code GGA00005

Region National, North, West