MOVE OVER BALING WIRE, THERE'S A NEW MULTI-TOOL ON THE FARM
|The tools on Brandon Fahrmeier's smart phone are as irreplaceable as a hammer and screwdriver once were.|
|There is an agriculture app for that.|
|Use of smartphones by farmers and ranchers is on the rise.|
The giant, green machine slows to a standstill and the roar of the engine calms to a low-pitched hum. High atop the combine the grain hopper is nearly overflowing with yellow corn. From behind the steering wheel and glowing GPS/yield monitor, Platte County farmer Darren Furbeck peers out the windows of his “office” in search of the big blue grain cart among the terraces and dry stalks.
A quick text on his smartphone confirms the grain cart is still transferring its payload to the waiting semi-truck. Darren pulls up the local weather report on his phone, using one of the many applications available. With a little luck, the big red blotch on the radar will stay to the south.
“I use a lot of weather apps,” Darren says with a chuckle. “I have three different weather applications on my phone, and I’m on them all the time. I can track the weather in real time as well as look at short term and extended forecasts.”
In addition to weather updates, facts and figures that were once the scribbled domain of old receipts and tattered pieces of paper are now organized on a smartphone.
“I can store a ton of information, such as acreage figures, machinery serial numbers, lists and even Excel (spreadsheet) files,” Darren says. “The only real challenge I have is durability. I can be pretty rough on my phone. But, I couldn’t imagine being without it now.”
With no grain cart in sight, Darren opens up the web browser on his phone and checks the latest grain bids and futures prices. Positive movement gets his attention, so he checks a spreadsheet stored on the mobile device and decides to give the grain elevator a call. With prices up a dime, he places an order to sell.
With new orders placed and the rain holding off, the grain cart soon returns and, for Darren, it’s back to shelling corn in rural Missouri.
EVOLUTION OF FARM FIELD COMMUNICATION
OH, THE THINGS THEY CAN DO!
According to research by International Data Services Inc., more than 300,000 mobile applications have been developed in the last three years. Those applications have been downloaded more than 10.9 billion times. Smartphone applications fit into four basic categories:
News applications – Many applications help you easily retrieve and organize updates and information from local news headlines to the latest market reports.
Record Keeping – From pasture grazing records to serial numbers and checkbook register, applications are available to help you keep track of important information quickly and easily.
Calculators – The pocket calculator had a good run for three or four decades but today’s smartphone applications can do a lot of the formulations for you. Whether calculating quantities of inputs, square footage of fields or the impact of grain costs on breakevens, there are tools for you.
Social Media – Social media are tools that enable greater social interaction. It is possible to connect with your circle of friends, family and acquaintances in a broadcast format, while also enabling them to respond and interact with you in real time. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare and LinkedIn are among the most popular. Farmers across the country are telling the story of agriculture by providing updates on farm activities throughout the day.
For decades the CB radio was the high-tech lifeline of agriculture, allowing farmers to communicate with their family or home base when out and about on the farm. But with the advance of cellular networks and mobile computing technology, farmers and ranchers can do a lot more than talk from the cab of their trucks and tractors.
Smartphones are loosely defined as mobile devices with more advanced computing capability and more connectivity than single-purpose cellular phones.
Common platforms for smartphones include the iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry. The advance of these relatively inexpensive hand-held computers that can be used virtually anywhere, gives users access to all the information of the internet and puts tools such as calculators and record keeping literally in the palm of one’s hand.
According to a report published in July 2011 by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 83 percent of adults in the United States have a cell phone of some kind. The survey finds that 35 percent of all American adults own a smartphone. In fact, one in every two adults between the age of 18 and 50 is using one.
IS THERE AN APP FOR THAT?
Today, software and internet applications allow users to perform an amazing variety of functions using a smartphone.
For Brandon Fahrmeier, who farms with his family in Lafayette County, Mo., the tools on his smart phone are as irreplaceable as a hammer and screwdriver once were.
“I depend on my iPhone to keep me going in the right direction,” Brandon says, noting that on the farm he relies on the calendar function, text and 24/7 phone service. “And the applications they have available now make me more efficient,” he adds.
The Fahrmeier Family Vineyards consists of vineyards, a winery, vegetable production and a greenhouse for producing flowers for the wholesale market. In addition, Brandon manages vineyards for neighboring growers. For Brandon, regularly used applications include a Spanish language translator, iWinemaker, Precision Labs Tank Mixing Guide and Time Master.
Growing fruits and vegetables in the Midwest means dealing with high humidity and a variety of insects. Pest management technologies like fungicides and pesticides are important tools to stave off damage from fungal and insect invaders. To ensure spray technologies are used at the correct volume and in a cost efficient manner, Brandon uses calculator tools on his iPhone.
“I have apps that help determine what order to mix products, calculate the right amount per volume of water and keep record of each application,” Brandon says.
But the smartphone tool Brandon uses most is Time Master, an application that allows him to keep track of all the man hours spent doing various jobs and allocate those expended resource to the various profit centers on the farm. For example, if he and three employees spent five hours bottling wine, he simply enters which employees, a brief description of the work being done, selects the winery as the client and taps “start.” When the work is done he taps “stop” to clock the work crew out.
With the job complete, he has a record of the labor cost for every job on the farm. He can download the reports later for accounting and payroll purposes. Or, if the work is for one of the neighboring vineyards Brandon manages, an invoice for the contract labor can be sent to the client at the touch of a button.
“There are so many uses for my phone,” Brandon says, “from tools that help me select the right spray tip to simply calculating the amount of yeast I need to add to make wine. It’s so handy to carry so much information with me at all times, no matter where I go.”
THE WORLD IN YOUR HAND
While there are thousands of applications available for smartphone users, the most utilized function, according to surveys, is the web browser tool that allows users to connect to the internet over the cellular bandwidth or via wireless internet connections. Accessing online banking, shopping, information and news is no longer the sole domain of desktop computers. Smartphones are becoming the tool of choice.
Chris Chinn, a Clarence, Mo., pork producer and District 2 director on the Missouri Farm Bureau Board, is finding that her BlackBerry and new iPad tablet allow her to get work done on her family operation no matter where her busy schedule takes her.
“We use our phones to stay on top of markets and weather,” Chris says. “The risk management company we use has a special website for members that provides information specific to our farm. It shows us immediately what impact the changing prices of hogs, bean meal and corn are having on our break-even.”
With new technology automatically updating market numbers in real time, Chris can see the profit per hog if inputs were contracted at a specific moment in time. Up-to-date information allows her to decide if she should be trying to buy corn from local producers today or placing an order with the soymeal plant.
Using the application LogMeIn (www.logmein.com), Chris can also keep up on all the livestock records for the farm.
“It allows me to log into the computers back at the office and access our programs from my iPad or smartphone. I don’t have to load a giant database on my mobile units and bog down the system, or have to synchronize the data later. I can simply make a change to farrowing records remotely in the same database,” Chris says.
The ability to connect with the internet or the home office over wireless and cellular networks cuts down on re-entering data and the amount of mobile hardware.
“We even use it when checking our cow herd,” admits Chris. “Our cattle records are on a spreadsheet, and we can update our records and make notes from the field.”
And even more important, smartphone technology keeps Chris connected to her family while she is on the road.
“My kids and I use the instant message feature all the time to communicate,” Chris says. “While my daughter is in the middle of her life, she can let me know things without leaving the room. Like if a meeting is running late or when I need to pick her up.”
Chris remembers attending a recent county Farm Bureau annual meeting on the same night as her daughter’s big softball game.
“I hated to miss it, but my mom was at the game and provided a play-by-play via text. So when my daughter got a big hit, I knew about it and on the inside I was at the game cheering her on even though I wasn’t there,” Chris says.
And not only did Chris follow the posts, but was able to watch a video of her daughter at bat taken on a smartphone and instant messaged to her minutes later.
Whether for farm or family, smartphones and wireless technology are changing our lives in countless ways. It’s not only bringing the world to the farm but enabling farmers to keep the business running while venturing out into the world.