WASHINGTON, April 13, 2016 - Farmers looking to add some high-tech to their operations might be able to do so with a device they already have in their pockets.
A crop production professor at Kansas State University says there are more than 100 apps on the market that growers can use to maximize the utility of fertilizers and herbicides, track nutrient runoff, predict crop yields and even identify weeds and other pests.
“These (apps) are very useful in terms of making decisions” on the farm, Ignacio Ciampitti said in an exclusive interview with Agri-Pulse. They not only allow farmers to easily reference and analyze the information they generate during day-to-day farming activities, but they also give growers access to crowd-sourced data on soils, pests, weather and more.
Ciampitti, who has worked for the last three years identifying and classifying farm apps, said the following top his list for functionality:
· The International Plant Nutrition Institute’s (IPNI) Crop Nutrient Deficiency Photo Library app. Currently for use with Apple products, this app allows growers to selectively search through a wide range of nutrient deficiency symptoms in 14 crops, including alfalfa, cotton, corn, rice, sorghum, soybean, sugarcane and wheat. Photos, along with text and diagrams, help farmers take a specific symptom and determine its underlying cause. For instance, the yellowing of leaf tips on corn could indicate a nitrogen deficiency, according to the app’s diagnostics (see screenshot at right).
· Ag PhD’s Planting Population app. Both Android and iPhone compatible, this app can determine the optimal in-row spacing between seeds based on row width and planting population. It can also determine stand count after crop emergence by counting the number of plants in a specific row. Ag PhD also offers the Harvest Loss Calculator app, which calculates crop loss, and the Soil Test app, which maps soil-testing results and informs fertilizer application.
· Oklahoma State University’s Canopeo app. Both Android and iPhone compatible, this app claims to make monitoring crop growth, managing grazing and quantifying drought, hail, freeze and pest damage a snap. First, the user takes a photo of the ground and the app determines the percent canopy cover. Then, the farmer can compare readings over time, plotting changes in canopy density and height and changing management practices as necessary to produce desired results.
· University of Missouri’s Weed ID app. This Android and iPhone compatible application holds a digital library full of weed species with a search function that allows users to identify just about any nuisance plant.
· Kansas State University’s SoyYieldCalc app. This Android application estimates soybean yields (in bushels per acre) based on four measurements – plants per acre, pods per plant, seeds per pod and seed size – all calculated using equations that take the grunt work out of counting rows. Ciampitti said Kansas State is also in the final stages of releasing another app for Android and iPhone that could estimate sorghum yields based on cellphone photos of grain heads.
After compiling an exhaustive list of farm apps (here is the first installment of that list), Ciampitti and his team have picked up on what makes the best apps, …well…, the best.
Generally speaking, the most widely used apps are those that work “intuitively,” Ciampitti said. Most apps don’t come with a user guide, or only have a short two-minute tutorial, so it’s critical that they are easy to understand. It’s also important that they can communicate with other applications, like a weather app for instance, and cooperate with user-friendly websites that make app-generated data easy to access, he said.
Some of the best apps have GPS capabilities, as well, Ciampitti explained. With GPS, farmers can recall precise data points from years prior on which to base management decisions. Apps equipped with GPS typically require the user to input less information for the same, or more data output, and can send out instant notifications and alerts to users, too.
Some producers, however, worry that GPS-capable apps generate big data at the expense of data privacy and security. Ciampitti said he understood their concerns, but maintained that “the benefits (of the apps) outweigh” the often negligible risks.
By far the biggest barrier to app usage in rural American is Internet connection, he said. The farm apps that require it “are more dynamic,” while those that don’t “need to be updated” more often, he said. Without adequate Wi-Fi it’s also difficult to upload data from, and download data to, an app, diminishing its usability.
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