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Farm apps

Apps for smartphones have come along fast, almost from nowhere, says John Nowatzki, North Dakota State University (NDSU) technology specialists.

“App development is probably the fastest growing area of technology on farms right now,” he says.

Replacing high-quality cellular flip phones are smartphones and data plans. Until you own one, you can't appreciate the importance of this little shirt-pocket toolbox that also makes phone calls, sends notes, and takes pictures.

“At first, what farmers want is instant information. That is pretty easy to do or get with a smartphone,” Nowatzki says.

The smartphone, at a minimum, has fast Internet access. It can open a browser window for whatever market report, weather report, or spec sheet is needed.

“Farmers also want to use it as a mini-computer to calculate things like a tank mix. They want to be able to take a picture of a certain weed they can't identify, email it to a specialist, and get an answer back quickly,” he says.

Early farm innovators purchased smartphones and signed contracts for the service in 2009. Today, full-scale adoption is under way.

Nowatzki estimates that most farms have at least one smartphone.
For those who have a new (or still no) smartphone, the excitement now is all about a specialized form of computer software known as an application, or app for short. Its purpose is to help you perform a single specific task on the smartphone or a set of related specific tasks.

Apps are popping up like popcorn these days. There are over a million apps for Android and Apple operating systems. Type either or into your browers and see what comes up.

Companies, colleges, government offices, and even other farmers are posting apps for farming on both their own Internet sites and on Google or Apple.

“Grain, chemical, and seed companies are all developing their own apps,” Nowatzki says.

“I'm developing one called Farm Fuel Budget,” he says. “You put in your total acres, choose a three-year crop rotation, select your type of tillage and harvest operation for each crop, then add the price of fuel. It will tell you how much fuel you'll use in that crop rotation, and what would happen if you substituted something like barley on half the corn acres.”

Another NDSU app is called Winter Survival. If you're stranded in a vehicle, it will automatically dial phone numbers and estimate how long before an engine will run out of fuel. Other farm-related apps include the Livestock Auction Calculator, ID Weeds, and Growing Degree Days.

Nowatzki's favorite app uses the camera flash on his smartphone to produce a steady light. “I probably use the flashlight app more than anything else,” he says.

Free or inexpensive

Many apps online are free; if there is a fee, it's usually under $5.

“For example, GPS Measure is free. You can measure distances. But if you pay to download the commercial version, you can drive or walk around an area and get an accurate measure of acres. Or, you can mark stones you need to move later or weed patches to spray later,” he says.

Apps are easy to add into the smartphone memory and are easy to delete. If you won't need it again for eight months, delete the app.

Generally, apps are regarded as safe, harmless, and free of serious issues, Nowatzki says.

Mobile apps that don't send user information over the Internet are not vulnerable to security issues. Most farm apps work as stand-alone electronic tools. Apps for banking, social networks, email, and business are able to send information and may be vulnerable to security issues.

Apps can offer the potential for feedback, a feature growing in popularity.

“I think we'll see people adding information to databases with their smartphones,” Nowatzki says. “For example, we're working on an app for glyphosate-resistant weeds. Our goal is to enable you to take a picture of a weed you think is resistant and upload it to our database. We can then expand our knowledge of the distribution and quickly give you some clues to identify and put a name on the problem.”

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John Nowatzki | 701/231-8213

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