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Agronomic smartphone apps

03/06/2014 @ 2:00pm

Want to keep up with smartphone apps that aid you in crop production? Here are favorites apps in five categories that Brian Arnall, an Oklahoma State University (OSU) precision nutrient management specialist, uses. Some of them were found in the app store, but Arnall has found many through word of mouth.

1. News, Weather, Markets
Most of the farm information sites, like Successful Farming magazine’s Agriculture.com, have developed apps that will connect you directly to that site from an icon on your smartphone or tablet. Most are free; they want your frequent visits to their sites.

“These come down to personal preference. You get used to a farm news and weather site because you like the layout and feel,” says Arnall. “You get a heavy dose of news for your location and your crops. If it’s corn, you can find an ag news app that caters to that topic.”

2. Identification
These are apps that can help you identify weeds, plant diseases, and crop pests. You’ll find them in the app store using those very search terms – weed identification, insect identification, plant diseases, and more. Typically, these identification apps are developed by and are available from state Extension departments, and they’re free.

“The Extension departments at South Dakota State University (SDSU) and North Dakota State University have some great identification apps,” says Arnall. Chemical companies also have developed apps in this area to help you identify your crop pest, and then to point you to their product to treat it.

Among his favorites are these three apps.
Plant Images shows common leaf coloring characteristics that go with nutrient deficiencies.
ID Weeds (developed by the University of Missouri) is the most in-depth weed identification tool available, Arnall says. “It gives lots of ways to identify weeds without knowing the names,” he says. “You can put in such things as leaf shape, size, and color, and it will narrow your choices until you get to the correct weed.”
Pestbook is actually from an Australian source. Some foreign apps have great relevance to the U.S., some don’t. “Pestbook has great images of insects, but you need to know the insect name to find the bug,” Arnall says.

3. Calculators
These tend to be relatively simple apps that will help you calculate things like fertilizer needs or harvest losses. In fact, two of Arnall’s favorites are called Fertilizer Removal and Harvest Lost. The former has a large selection of crops, and it allows you to change your yield goals. Then it calculates nutrient needs for that crop. He also likes an app called Nutrient Removal, which includes fewer nutrients.

Harvest Lost is one of Arnall’s favorites of all crop apps. It puts economics to combine losses. When you open it, you can put in the crop, the price, and the crop loss you see behind your harvester. This app calculates the loss in dollars per acre.

“It’s the ideal of what an agricultural app should be,” he says. “It’s simple, and it gives you a quick analysis of something that’s very important. It’s a handy-dandy little tool.”

One other calculator that Arnall really likes is called Growing Degree Days. You can enter a start date or planting date for a crop and an ending date, then you click your location on a map. The app calculates the growing degree days for your area up to that date and for the whole season.

4. Scouting, Mapping, and Field 
Record keeping
The mapping apps tend to be more sophisticated than the other categories, requiring a security login, a membership, and sometimes a fee that can be as much as $2,500 a year. While that sounds like a lot of money, you get a lot, including layered field maps and GPS-based analysis and tracking.

Two free mapping apps that he likes are Scout and Sirrus. He calls Scout the best note-taking app available; it lets you draw field boundaries, take and save pictures, and flag areas of interest for later retrieval and action.

“Sirrus is my favorite for creating field boundaries,” he says. “You can use it for setting up soil-sampling grid maps and schemes.” He likes its undo last button, which lets you easily fix a mistake when you input data.

“I consider it very handy in the field, and I use it on my iPad without any sophisticated GPS program or equipment. I simply tap my finger on a map to set field boundaries,” he says. “I did this for several fields in just a few minutes.”

Arnall likes one from SDSU called Soybean Scout. It shows various plant diseases and helps you know when to be looking for them in the field.

Another app called Aphid Scout from the University of Nebraska lets you enter data and helps you make treatment decisions.

Yield Check lets you enter ears, rows, and length to estimate corn yields. Field View is another favorite, allowing you to track machines in the field, along with various crop statistics on a field-by-field basis.

5. Input Calculations
Corn and Soybean Field Guide is a lead app in this category, just made available in the last few months. It is Purdue University’s Corn and Soybean Field Guide put into a digital format and made into an app. There’s a lot of information in this app about growing these crops, including photos and videos. It’s not free ($12.99 from the app store), but it is definitely worth the cost, says Arnall.

Several apps on Arnall’s favored list deal with specific chemicals, usually from the companies that make them. They can have some very good weed-identification tools and advice for chemical applications.

One app Arnall likes is called Tank Mix Calc. You can enter the acres, size of your sprayer tank, and the volume, and it will calculate the rate per acre and total amount of chemical and water you will need, along with the number of tanks for the field. It can then keep a record of what you applied by field. Tank Mix is a similar input calculator app that has similar functions.

Spray Select is an app that will get you to the right sprayer nozzle for a given application. It’s Spraying Systems’ Tee-Jet catalog in digital form, Arnall says.

There are several fertilizer calculator apps that Arnall likes, including Manure Calc, Fertilizer Cost Calculator, and N Price. All require you to input such things as cost, nutrient analysis, and acreage, and the app will help you calibrate rates or make the best economic decisions.
Many seed companies also have input apps that can help you make seed selection decisions and population or planting date choices.

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