Scouting is one of the most critical services that ag retailers and consultants can offer their grower-customers. The need for accurate information about crop conditions, including weeds, insects and other pests, has never been greater.
There’s a lot riding on a successful scouting program. Improved yields and higher profits are much harder to achieve if scouting is not done as fast and efficiently as possible. Timing is of the essence. And with the number of acres to cover and pests to manage seemingly increasing every year, this can be a daunting challenge for even the most experienced precision ag professional.
Fortunately, technology has helped greatly when it comes to crop scouting. One tool in particular that ag retailers and consultants are adding to their scouting program is the mobile app. PrecisionAg Professional recently caught up with several developers to gain insight into what makes the field scouting app such a valuable tool, as well as one retailer that has made work easier by using it.
The Need For Speed, Ease Of Use
Speed is one of the most important attributes of effective scouting. Acting on a pest problem quickly can only happen if it’s identified and recorded quickly. That’s where the mobile scouting app comes into play.
Take the AgraScout app for instance. Developer Neucadia made some major enhancements to its flagship product in 2014 with time savings and ease of use in mind.
“We had customers in Wisconsin who were rained out until early July, so when they finally got into the field they needed a scouting program that made scouting quicker and easier,” says Brandon Warner, Director of Sales and Marketing. “We realized that if our program wasn’t dead simple to use, we would miss opportunities to fulfill our mission.”
The team responded to customer feedback by building a new feature to make scouting with AgraScout even faster. The Fields Nearby feature locates the user’s position and instantly plots all their customers’ fields around them on a map. Clicking on a field gives the user a range of options: view all the recent findings for that field, get driving directions to the entrance, schedule it to be scouted later or jump right in and start scouting.
Mobile apps also improve upon the traditional way of scouting with a field notebook, says Liron Brish, CEO of Farm Dog Technologies, which recently launched an app called Farm Dog Scout.
“It’s a pain being in the field juggling your notebook, phone camera, the everlasting search for the red ribbon marker you placed in the field last week, and your email/messaging application,” he says. “Farm Dog integrates all of those functions into one, saving growers and scouts 45 minutes per day.”
Standardized data collection through the mobile app also helps to improve traditional scouting methods, says Zachary Baiel, Director of Customer Relations, Spensa Technologies, which features the OpenScout among its app offerings.
“With OpenScout, standardized data collection ensures that each scout is recording the correct information each and every trip,” he says.
Data collection is enhanced further with the app’s Precision Dispatch feature, which allows scouts to assess pest problems across a field or specific locations within a field. “With Spensa’s Precision Dispatch feature, OpenScout users know which fields to scout and what to look for, which saves time and money for every service provider.”
Capturing consistent data via a mobile scouting solution can also help improve workflow, adds Stuart McColloh, Director of Customer Success at ScoutPro, which develops a scouting program for the iPad.
“Handwritten notes and thumbing through note pages do not create efficient movement in a field,” he says. “With location services, scouting on an iPad gives the scout a real-time view of where they are in the field, especially when the corn is above their head. Workflow for the scout is crucial, each type of scout has different needs and an app can provide custom usage based on shortcuts, favorites, search indices and a host of other features that scouting on a paper form or excel sheet cannot provide.”
In addition, ScoutPro customers can effectively scout for an entire day without needing to be connected to WiFi or have cell data streaming. “No matter the scout, the ScoutPro app provides consistency and efficiency.”
The scouting team at Willard Agri-Service has grown to appreciate the value a good scouting app. Natasha Field, Sales Support Representative & Organic Coordinator, has been scouting with Willard for several years. She says the company’s former process of scouting was extremely time-consuming.
“If we had pictures to document from the trip, the process would take on average 10 minutes per field,” she says. “Generally at our busiest time of the season we’re doing anywhere between 7 to 10 fields, and sometimes up to 15 fields if they’re smaller. Because we had to record each field individually, we could spend up to an hour each day just on compiling and sending our scouting reports.”
Willard then started using the OpenScout app. The process now takes about 5 minutes each day, versus an hour, allowing Willard scouts to spend more time scouting in the grower’s fields and less time reporting. Scouts at Willard like the ease of use and the intuitiveness of the OpenScout solution. Field says Willard hires interns to help scout each year, but there can be a significant turnover each season. “The Willard team appreciates how simple it is to train new scouts on the OpenScout solution as there are only two components: the mobile app and the website,” she says.
Enhancing Grower-Customer Relationships
One of the side benefits of using a scouting app is improved customer service. Farmers who receive instant, accurate information on crop conditions will trust their service provider even more when it comes to treatment recommendations.
Simon Parrington, Commercial Director at SOYL, says his company’s iSOYLscout app enables scouted data to be wirelessly and efficiently transferred between field and office, and be made easily available to customers.
“iSOYLscout gives the consultant the ability to record observations accurately and to share the observations through the central mySOYL website where the data is uploaded,” he says. “The consultant and his customer both have visibility of the data. Variable application plans can be accurately produced, thus communication between the two parties is improved.”
Improved communication via the scout app ultimately leads to strengthened relationships between farmers and service providers, says Spensa’s Baiel. “The mobile application helps retailers and consultants demonstrate the value of their scouting service to their customers through relevant data and intuitive reporting,” he says.
Farm Dog’s Brish agrees. “The relationship between the service provider and the grower is strong, oftentimes going back many years,” he says. “The mobile app strengthens the relationship between the two, allowing for improved communication and problem-solving, which in turn leads to increased yields and reduced costs. As the industry evolves, it is important to remember that agriculture is both relationship-based and a business, and we believe that the best solutions being brought to the industry should respect both of those qualities.”
McColloh says scouting can be positioned by service providers to show ROI to growers on a variety of field practices. “If a grower chooses ‘X’ weed management program, then an agronomist can scout and find the good and the not so good of choosing that weed management program,” he says. “We can then determine with confidence the ROI of that weed management program. Mobile scouting only helps that.”