Cool Tools For The Scout

With new seed technologies available and established pesticide chemistries facing resistance problems, the need is bigger than ever to scout fields and evaluate product performance, says Jeremy Bale, marketing director with SST Software Development Group.

Fortunately, it’s becoming easier for growers to determine the cost (lost yield) of weed, insect and other problems, says Brian Stark, marketing manager at Farm Works Software. Crop scouts play a key role here. “Scouts are being pushed to cover more and more acres each year,” he says.

Power Of Pictures

The “Image” feature in the new Farm Works Mobile (which replaces Trac Mate and Site Mate) allows the scout to use a GPS-enabled handheld d

evice with a built-in camera to take a picture of a weed or insect. The image is linked to a map for future reference. Plus, the photo can be tied in with notes or other information. “This makes it easier for anyone to collect information in the field and have the necessary details in the office for assessment,” explains Stark.

In fact, Farm Works Mobile streamlines data management in the field by bundling recordkeeping, mapping, scouting, soil sampling and variable-rate application into one software solution, he says.

Spectrum Technologies‘s 5-megapixel IPM Scope CAM allows users to capture magnified images of diseases or insects and review the images on the LCD display, says Cynthia Turski, IPM specialist. Once downloaded to a computer, the image can be magnified up to 300X.

SST Software with agX already allows service providers/growers to collect and track seed technologies, pesticides, and pests consistently and efficiently, says Bale. Its framework supports multiple layers of data and allows users to monitor that data over time to determine effectiveness of specific programs (by farm, field or management zone). The company is in the process of integrating digital imagery that will enable monitoring of fields on a larger scale, saving time and increasing exactness of information gathered. “And we are working to deliver new tools in 2011 that will bring an exciting array of opportunities for crop scouting and protection efforts,” he says.

Another popular field aid at Spec­trum has been the newly designed SPAD 502 Plus chlorophyll meter. “It measures the transmittance of a leaf at two different wavelengths and outputs a SPAD index number,” says Turski. “Based on the value of that index number, the user can determine if nitrogen needs to be applied.” One of the company’s customers has been using the previous SPAD meter for 10 years to determine if sidedress nitrogen is necessary and even to establish what rate of sidedress nitrogen to apply. The meter has enabled the grower to reduce the total number of pre-sidedress soil nitrate samples taken and later in the season, the number of plant tissue samples collected in the field.

Able to watch fields when managers can’t, Spectrum’s Watchdog Micro stations can now support up to six sensors to measure conditions such as temperature, relative humidity, soil moisture, rain, and leaf wetness. Knowing soil moisture, for instance, can help growers time irrigation and save money or improve crop quality, says Turski. “If insects are a problem, a combined effort of keeping track of temperatures, degree days and trapping can be very effective in aiding management decisions, she says.

Tough Field Displays

Just last month Ag Leader introduced a new mobile display that’s compatible with its SMS Mobile software tool for collecting crop scouting data, soil sampling, field boundaries, and more. The Mesa Rugged Notepad is a waterproof, impact-resistant notepad built specifically for field use.

“This device offers users more than just a PDA — the Mesa is a digital notepad made specifically for field work,” says Corey Weddle, director of software solutions. The Mesa provides flexibility for running SMS Mobile, while the large, 5.7-inch, sunlight-readable screen offers easy operation but doesn’t compromise its portability. In addition, the Windows Mobile 6.5.3 operating system provides a streamlined, more responsive interface that is very finger-friendly, Weddle adds. Additional features include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless technology, as well as a built-in camera and GPS, making it ideal for the in-field operations of SMS Mobile.

Trimble/Farm Works now offer three mobile computers — Trimble Juno, Trimble Nomad, and Trimble Yuma — with built-in GPS and cameras. “This is a significant improvement compared to the old days of using HP iPAQs with Bluetooth GPS or compact flash (CF) GPS cards inserted into the CF slot,” believes Stark.

With such an array of helpful tools, scouting experts offered a few guidelines for purchase decisions. Stay with one company when shopping for hardware and software recommends Stark. He’s seen growers and scouts become frustrated with other, third-party hardware/software. “Customer frustration can range from no support staff, lack of software enhancements or lost data due to computer failure,” he says.

SST’s Bale would advise dealers to look for a system that can scale with their operation and allow them to share data with colleagues, managers and growers, while offering the ability to create reports at a refined and high level.

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