Crop tracer

03/16/2011 @ 9:40am

For a country as technologically advanced as the U.S., it's hard to understand how Salmonella and E. coli keep making headline news. Yet, it seems every few months there's a new food-borne threat to worry about.

In cases where E. coli taints spinach and Salmonella shows up in tomatoes, peanut butter, and eggs, tracing the source of these bacteria has proven difficult at times. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that food safety problems account for approximately 76 million illnesses annually, finding an easier way to determine where tainted food originated has taken center stage.

“No matter what part of the ag industry you're connected to — whether it's value-enhanced commodities, input costs, contracts, environmental management, customer relations, or food security — there is a critical need for today's producers to be able to track agricultural production at all levels,” says David Hosking, president and CEO of FieldTraks LLC.

His company, which first launched its product in Canada in 2004, provides a remedy to this problem with its Web-based agricultural record-keeping and traceability service because it allows growers, processors, crop advisers, and agribusinesses to collect and manage detailed records of all ag practices on a farmer's field.

The solution FieldTraks offers is an online mapping application designed to capture and report farm and field information like crop details, fertilizer and chemical applications, scouting, harvest results, and any other data the user defines.

“A permanent record of everything that has been done to a crop is stored in an ultra-secure data center,” says Hosking.

No special software is needed. Clients simply enter and retrieve data using a Web browser or Windows CE device, such as a PDA or mobile phone, including GPS-supported devices. This system also works offline on ruggedized tablet PCs equipped with GPS to record in-field data. Information can later be uploaded and stored on the FieldTraks server.

The Cost Of A Remedy

Cost of the service varies according to type of user and number of farms. “Our user base consists of growers, crop advisers, lab analysts, and mappers. For a grower with one farm, the annual subscription rate is $600, and the number of fields on that farm is unlimited,” says Hosking. “Crop advisers who have multiple farms (as clients) will pay a sliding-scale rate depending on how many farms are covered.”

Certified crop consultant Trevor Thornton of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada, knows first-hand how useful FieldTRAKS can be. He has been using the tool for a little over a year now as part of his scouting practices to ensure that growers can trace every step of their crop production. What impressed him most are the efficiencies he's been able to realize.

“We could have five consultants out in the field gathering data. With FieldTraks, we have the option of being Web-based and can also go offline. That means producers can pull off information, scout, look at what they need to do, and synchronize it to the computer, which brings all the information back to one place. It's already sorted and linked,” he says. “It's a huge time saver.”

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