Smart farming - data banks at your fingertips
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.
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. “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.”
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.
GRDC Project Code GGA00005
Region National, North, West