A tool gaining popularity with today’s farmers doesn’t run on diesel or drive a nail. Smart phones and tablets won’t replace tractors any time soon, but they are helping farmers increase efficiency and keep more accurate records.
At Beck’s Turf Farm in Macon County, co-owner and operator Wayne Bassett is finding more uses for his iPad tablet each day, ranging from employee evaluations to plant disease identification.
“They’re easier to use than most people think,” Bassett said of his tablet. “If you can move your fingers around, you can make it work. It’s really much simpler to use a tablet than a lot of other PC-type programs on a laptop or desktop.”
Bassett has the $9.99 app “Employee Tracker Pro” to note employee conduct and uses that information for reviews.
“My memory is not that good,” he said. “With this app, I can jot down an employee’s action with just two or three little taps. I’ve recorded the events, good, bad and ugly.”
When hosting guests at the farm, Bassett turns to the “Happy List” app to create shopping lists for meals.
“I save all the lists so I can look back at an event and see what I served,” he said. “Then I know to serve something different the next time.”
For consultations, Bassett uses Esri’s GIS (geographic information systems) mapping software and programs such as Google Earth, Keynote and Penultimate to develop a vision for a client’s landscaping project. Penultimate, available for 99 cents, is a scratchpad where Bassett draws out what a customer wants. The free Esri and Google Earth apps provide him with a bird’s-eye view of the property where they’ll be working. Esri even allows him to measure the acreage or distance of an area. With the $9.99 app “Keynote,” Bassett develops presentations for customers.
“If anyone is interested in being more efficient, more productive and more accountable, using this technology is a good way to do all that,” he said. “For example, if I have a spot on a leaf and I’m not sure what it is, I can snap a picture with my iPad, email it to the botanical garden and find out if it is something I need to worry about.”
Henry County farmer Thomas Adams uses his smartphone for email, and he checks apps like the Weather Channel, Weather Bug and his local TV station for the latest conditions. Adams said the free app “Days Until” keeps track of the age of his peanuts.
“I use the app so I don’t have to manually calculate the number of days since planting,” Adams said. “I can always know how old my peanuts are in any field, and it can help you keep up with important dates like anniversaries.”
Another free app, “Mix Tank” from Precision Technologies, provides Adams a detailed spray log, including latitude and longitude coordinates, chemical mixture used, spraying duration and weather conditions.
“The cost of a smartphone is minimal compared with what it can do for you,” he said. “The biggest thing is just learning to use it, and it will make your day and your life much easier. This technology has allowed me to be a better farmer.”
Another app specifically designed to help farmers with their everyday tasks is the Extreme Beans app from the United Soybean Board (USB). Developed as part of a soy checkoff-funded study, Extreme Beans includes two calculators to help farmers plan their next crop.
Approximately 45 percent of American adults own a smartphone, and 85 percent own a cell phone, according to the Pew Internet Project. When it comes to young farmers, a recent study showed 83 percent use computers on the farm, and nearly one-third have access to the Internet.