Agriculture and the use of digital tools are almost inseparable today. Technology has become much more accessible and data more valuable for decision making. Mobile technology, such as smartphones and apps, have become particularly useful in agriculture.
As someone who works with technology and precision agriculture, I’m almost ashamed to admit that I didn’t get my first smartphone until almost four years ago. Up until that point, I figured that smartphones were a luxury and data plans were an expense I didn’t need. However, on a trip to Costa Rica visiting farms in the region, I was shocked to see how high the adoption of smartphones was in the country, even among rural populations and farmers. Shortly afterwards, I got my first smartphone and have integrated apps and other tools into my career as an agronomist.
The year of 2017 was a good year for farming apps, and I added a suite of new tools to my toolbox. When I look back at the apps I’ve used the most this year, five stand out: John Deere’s MyAnalyzer, Sentera’s AgVault, AgriSync, Farm Dog Scout, and Apple’s Podcast app.
John Deere MyAnalyzer
John Deere has a suite of mobile tools that are free for farmers and trusted advisors alike. These include apps such as MyOperations, Connect Mobile, and MyTransfer. The best way I’ve found to view the many apps that John Deere has available is to download the John Deere App Center onto an iPhone or Android device, which curates the apps they have available and makes it easier to research and download tools.
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As an agronomist, my favorite app from John Deere is the MyAnalyzer tool. With this tool I’m able to connect with farmers that I have a partnership with and view agronomic data, such as planting data, product applications, and yield maps to better support customers. From the app I can see a list of fields, and even get turn-by-turn directions to the field if I need to conduct ground inspections.
Obviously this app is primarily geared towards individuals who are using John Deere equipment, but John Deere has released compatibility with its Operations Center with competitive displays, such as those from Raven and AgLeader, using a mobile data transfer USB drive. This allows those with mixed fleets to manage their data in one place, and view it in the MyAnalyzer app.
Sentera is a leader in the UAV space, and has a wide selection of sensors and drones for use in agriculture. Its AgVault app allows users to autonomously fly DJI drones that have Sentera NDVI sensors installed for evaluating crop health.
The AgVault app is extremely user-friendly, and it’s almost shocking how simple the app makes flying fields and taking the pictures necessary for making detailed maps. Users simply select the field they want to fly, specify the altitude and overlap, and push the “start flight” button. The drone takes it from there, and will return if it needs additional batteries or finishes the mission.
The AgriSync app is one of the most unique apps I’ve had the opportunity to use, and it solves a real issue for trusted advisors and famers: bridging gaps in communication. In the agriculture industry, advisors tend to cover very large areas, which can make it difficult if a grower needs support. The majority of issues are relatively easy to solve, but require physically looking at a field or piece of equipment. This can mean a lot of windshield time, and may not be the best use of resources.
With the AgriSync app, growers and trusted advisors can connect with a video call, allowing both to share ideas and solve problems virtually. What sets this apart from other services is that AgriSync is optimized for cellular connections, which means more reliable audio and video. Growers can open tickets with their trusted advisors when they need help or have a question, allowing the trusted advisor to connect with them when they’re available, and track tickets that have been created.
The pricing structure of this app is also pretty unique in that the service is free for farmers to use. Advisors pay a small yearly subscription, which when you consider the time and resources that can be saved on field calls and the level of support you can provide to customers, could easily pay for itself.
Farm Dog Scout
Farm Dog Scout is another new app that I discovered this year, which I installed, started using, and loved. It, too, has a very generous price structure. The service is free to use for commodity crops up to 1,000 acres and specialty crops up to 250 acres. There is tiered pricing available beyond that for growers or trusted advisors who are working with more acres.
The app simplifies the process of crop scouting and keeping track of fields during the season. You can create or import field boundaries, add scouting events, take pictures and notes during field visits which are geo-referenced on a map, and mark the severity of issues. After scouting, you can create scouting reports that can be sent to the grower or other trusted advisors.
Apple’s Podcast App
The last app on my list is Apple’s Podcast app but, really, this could be any podcast app of your choice – which might not seem like it fits in with the others on this list. However, more and more groups in the industry are launching podcasts that have relevant and valuable information. I know I’m not alone with the amount of time that I spend behind the windshield, and I’ve found that podcasts are a great way to make better use of this time. Listening to podcasts helps me learn new ideas and stay up-to-date with what others are doing in the industry.
A list of agriculture podcasts is probably a topic for another article, but some of my favorites include the Agriculture Technology Podcast, Ag PhD Radio, and The Deal with Yield.
Throughout the next several years, mobile farming apps like these will become more important to the industry. With most of us carrying fairly powerful computers in our pockets in the form of smartphones, more decision-making tools will become available and leave us wondering, like I did, how we ever got along without them.