With each new year, technology seems to play an ever increasing role in all facets of our lives. Today’s agricultural environment is no exception. Just consider the number of technology advances a middle-aged grower has seen over the course of his or her farming career — satellite imagery, GPS mapping, auto-steer capabilities, flow monitors, high-tech features on tractors and combines.
One area where farmers are really getting a leg up is the smartphone — it’s become a must-have tool for more growers every year.
“Farmers don’t like to be bound to their home office. They can now get a variety of information, data and news wherever they are, from the equipment shed to the seat of their combine,” explains Ken Colombini, director of communications for the National Corn Growers Association in St. Louis.
Colombini says the NCGA makes a number of mobile apps available to growers, but it also makes sure its major websites (ncga.com, worldofcorn.com and ethanolfacts.com) are designed in a way that allows for easy use with smartphones or tablets. In terms of apps, NCGA Action (a portal for news and advocacy opportunities), Refuge Calculator (an insect resistance management tool), KernelQuest (a game that teaches corn facts) and Commodity Classic (an app for NCGA’s major trade shows and conventions) are examples of what it offers corn growers.
Lovers of mobile
“Growers are quickly embracing mobile technology in their farming operations,” offers Colombini, who says apps allow growers to integrate existing production systems already being used. “For example, there are many new apps that allow quick access to information, such as weed and pest control databases, weather and remote sensors.”
Brian Arnall, Ph.D, an associate professor and precision nutrient management Extension specialist at Oklahoma State University, has become an expert on apps for agriculture, and he agrees with Colombini that a lot more information is easily accessible to growers (of all types) thanks to mobile technology. Arnall says private and public entities are both sources of apps available today, but he believes university Extension programs are in a good position to create even more tools in the future.
For corn growers, Arnall recommends a good mix of identification, calibration, calculator and field guide-related apps. The challenge, though, is figuring out which ones you like best, because the choices are many. In fact, Arnall has downloaded more than 200 free ag-related apps onto his iPad, and has divided them into the following categories: ag news and weather; ag resources; calculators; crop tools; fertilizer; ID tools; records; scouting or mapping; seed selection; sprayer chemicals; and more.
“No app is currently a ‘game-changer,’ but many can make some of the daily chores or calculations a bit easier,” explains Arnall, who frequently blogs about ag issues and technology at osunpk.com .
Age not a factor
But don’t think age is a determining factor in who is using mobile apps today, as it isn’t just young farmers who are embracing the technology. In fact, both Colombini and Arnall have seen firsthand how growers of all ages are using apps and realizing the value of this technology as a part of their business.
“Smart farmers have always been innovators and early adopters, regardless of age. They know a good tool when they see it,” says Colombini.