Three growers across the country talk about their use of new e-tools
GroundCover™ Issue: 106
Eye on the sky
You will not catch Andrew Todd using his iPhone or iPad to play games. The Western Australia grower avoids ‘time-wasting’ apps and is interested solely in tools: downloadable solutions to specific on-farm needs.
Andrew, his wife Jacinta and his parents Geoff and Tricia farm 4000 hectares at Dowerin, 150 kilometres north-east of Perth.
At 29, Andrew has been back on the farm for a decade, operating in a very different environment from when Geoff started farming 40 years ago.
“I regularly check the weather, mainly out of curiosity and hope,” was Andrew’s wry explanation for having several weather apps on his iPhone in what has been shaping up as another very dry growing season.
“My favourite is WillyWeather, for reliable, detailed forecasts of wind speed and direction, which help us plan when to spray, especially around susceptible crops. We run a chaff cart behind the harvester, so this app also helps us assess wind conditions before we burn the chaff heap.”
Andrew also uses OzWeather and Weatherzone apps to plan farm activities around weather events.
The email capability of his iPhone is another valuable business tool, enabling him to respond to urgent requests and actively participate in group discussions as part of the GRDC Regional Cropping Solutions Networks and CBH Growers Advisory Council.
And if you do receive an email from Andrew, he probably sent it standing on top of the cab of a tractor, a reflection of their farm’s patchy mobile phone coverage – another deterrent for downloading excess apps.
Andrew’s father Geoff is also equipped with an iPhone.
“Dad finds the phone’s camera particularly useful. If we have leaf disease, he takes a photo and sends it to our agronomist in seconds for his opinion.”
While weather apps are the priority, Andrew has some useful tools on hand for harvest. He accesses live delivery information from CBH Mobile and is going to trial Grainmarket, developed by Market Ag, which allows growers to access live and historic pricing, customise bid sheets and set price targets.
“The ability to access live pricing from my phone, any time of the day, is a powerful tool. It means we no longer have to wait for a text or email at noon and potentially miss a marketing opportunity.”
Access all areas
Chris Hartin, from Moree in New South Wales, does not hesitate when asked what e-technology has delivered to his business: “Efficiency, quality assurance and time,” he says.
Chris and his father Craig started their contract business, C&H Spreading, 11 years ago and have expanded into share-farming (with 364 hectares of chickpeas, 162ha of wheat and 162ha of sorghum planted in the Moree region this year) and composting waste from local cotton gins and feedlots.
With clients spread from St George in Queensland to Hillston in western NSW, plant of loaders, spreaders, four tractors, a header and a road-train, and up to 10 staff in peak times, Chris relies on mobile technology to manage the business.
“We use a range of e-technologies to make farming decisions, such as a Trimble FMX100 system with Field-IQ and Vehicle Sync, which allows our machines to ‘talk’ to each other. This overcomes shortages in skilled labour, as an experienced operator can use the system to access data in another machine to see if a less-experienced operator is achieving productivity goals.”
Chris will soon build on this capacity, when he trials a Trimble remote-access app.
“Dad and I can’t be everywhere at once, so this lets us spend our time effectively. We can remotely access our machines from the app on our iPhone or iPad to ensure the right decisions are made.”
Chris also uses ag-specific apps such as TeeJet’s SpraySelect to select nozzles and business tools such as DropBox to share documents between devices.
“Dad wasn’t too tech-savvy but was willing to learn. He sees the benefit of apps that help us run our business remotely. I think the key message for the older generation is that it’s actually very hard to do anything wrong with apps. Most apps are free, so it’s only going to cost a bit of data to play around and get a feel for what they can do.”
When he can’t find the right Australian app for the job, Chris is willing to incorporate international alternatives into his e-tech toolbox.
“One of the most useful apps was developed by a US-based Case IH dealership. It includes a parts catalogue, so instead of calling out a mechanic or trying to describe a part over the phone, I just use the app to quote the part number. It saves time and reduces human error.”
Jonathan Dyer likes to tell the story of the time a grower sceptically asked him, “social media might be fun, but can it make me money?”
“So I told him about the time we made $300,000 on Twitter,” Jonathan chuckles. “A grain marketer put out a tweet looking for a particular grade of lentils. I got in contact and we made the sale.”
Jonathan grew up on his family’s 2400-hectare mixed farm at Kaniva, in Victoria’s Wimmera region. He went to Adelaide to study information technology and then worked as a web developer at Deloitte, so his decision to return home in 2010 at the age of 23 was met with plenty of blank looks among peers.
Undeterred, Jonathan launched a blog under the handle ‘Nerd Farmer’ to share the realities of life on the land, and is active on Twitter with an online audience of growers and the wider community.
Jonathan says these are simple, user-friendly communication tools. A ‘blog’ is a web log used to post regular entries, while Twitter is a networking service where users send ‘tweets’ (messages of up to 140 characters) to their ‘followers’.
“I missed corporate interactions when I first moved back, so the blog and Twitter opened new networks that challenge, inspire and educate me,” Jonathan says.
“These platforms create opportunities to communicate positive messages to the general public and build relationships with consumers, so we can defend our industry from real or imagined issues.”
Jonathan also uses Twitter as a business tool, following the GRDC (@theGRDC), agribusinesses, growers and farming groups to stay informed. He connects with online farming communities through Twitter conversations such as #agchatoz and #tweetsfromtractorcab.
He uses apps such as TankMix to calculate chemical rates, Profarmer for grain marketing, and Convertor to change his father’s instructions to metric units.
Jonathan even has his father Alwyn and uncle Eric “dipping their toe” into the e-technology ocean.
“Dad used to think I wasted a lot of time on my phone. Now during harvest he constantly calls me on the UHF, asking what my weather app says, or what grain prices are doing. It’s the perfect blend of old and new communication technology.
“I think smartphones initially contributed to the generational divide, because our fathers and grandfathers thought it was useless. But now, technology is bridging generational differences because they see its role in communication and decision-making.
“The ability of e-technology to be a farm recording tool is especially important to a young grower like me who doesn’t have decades of experience to draw on.”
See the ‘Decision-support tools’ Ground Cover Supplement for more information.
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