Look Ma, no keyboard by Lynette Carew Reid

Corrigin farmer Brad Talbot reckons the PALM computer is a major timesaver.

CORRIGIN, WA, farmer Brad Talbot first saw the PALM computer in use on a sugar beet property in North Dakota and instantly recognised the time it could save him.

That was 1999 when he and wife Jodie visited the USA as winners of a 1998 Golden Grain Grower award. But it was not until recently, when compatible Australian software was developed by local company Fairport Technologies, that he decided to huy the palm-size unit. With 2001 seeding now finished, it has proven the time-saver for which he had hoped.

He is looking forward to an electronic version of the GRDC's Paddock Diary that he can download from the web site at www.grdc.com.au for use on his PALM. The Paddock Diary software is being developed as a GRDC-supported project.

He believes the program will allow seasonally employed farm workers to enter data onto a second PALM computer without accidentally interfering with the data set on the main computer.

Freeing up the evenings

During seeding this year, the PALM computer helped the Talbots slash 75 per cent off the time normally taken transferring information from a notebook to the main computer.

On a busy day, it could take Mr Talbot an hour and a half at night to transfer data from his notebook.

Now, data such as seed, fertiliser and chemical rates, previously recorded on paper during the day, are entered directly into the PALM computer. In the evening he 'hot synchs', or downloads, the information and, by the time he pulls off his work boots, the task is virtually over.

Mr Talbot's PALM computer has eight megabytes of memory and runs Pocket PAM (Paddock Action Manager), the purpose-written program compatible with the full version already used by many farmers. Information is entered with a pen-like stylus, using graffiti, a language that simplifies letters and numbers for the computer to recognise. It takes a bit of time to learn, but the process is simplified by a game-like approach.

Impressing the bank, and livestock records

Among other advantages could be the ease of impressing the bank. "Our bank manager doesn't know anything about farming. He treats us like any other business and there can't be any bleeding heart stories. You have to be as professional as any other business and it helps if you can print out a season or financial report and present it."

Mr Talbot believes it will be a real bonus in the sheep yards, saying many farmers don't use Pocket PAM for livestock because they can' t use their computers in the yards and it takes a lot of time to enter the information manually.

QA tool

And quality assurance should become much easier. Mr Talbot would like to see present programming expanded to become a more comprehensive inventory, where batch numbers and expiry dates, for example, can be entered into the computer for the entire farm. Similarly, he would al so like to see a detailed section to record on-farm grain storage treatments and monitoring.

He has downloaded a number of worthwhile software programs from the Internet, including from the US company Farm Works, which has developed farm recording programs specifically for PALM computers.