Field Tools Refined

How can scouts be more efficient and effective, whether walking or riding the acres they’re called to service? That’s the key question that David Krueger of AgRenaissance Software finds his crop consultant customers asking. They’re picking up additional acres to keep business going; “therefore, they have to work smarter. They’re looking for tools and ideas that will help them be more efficient in collecting field samples, scheduling and time management, data sharing, and data management,” he says.

For 20 years, Spectrum Technologies has been a major supplier of many “nitty gritty” measuring tools. The company specializes in ag weather stations and nutrient and soil moisture management equipment. Just this past fall, a redesigned Cardy Nitrate Meter made its debut — a possible boon in light of current concerns about nitrogen (N) prices and efficient N use. “As the plants develop, scouts can collect petioles, crush them in a garlic press, collect the sap, and then do tests to see how much N the plants are picking up,” says Cynthia Turski, integrated pest management specialist.

Other newer tools for this season are an array of light sensors and meters. Formerly used primarily in research, the units have come down in price and can give scouts a better idea of how much light is hitting plants. One unit, the 2475 PAR sensor, can measure the 400-700 nanometer wave range. Agronomists can then calculate the quantity (moles) per day a crop is receiving.

One red/far red light reflectance meter can measure the NDVI (Normalized Different Vegetation Index) of a crop — a number developed by the scientific community that relates to how much photosynthesis is going on in a plant, says Aaron Johnsen, green industry consultant with Spectrum. The data is especially helpful in determining if a plant is under nitrogen or drought stress. Johnsen says the meter has been used most in corn, but in January the firm will be releasing one for small grains.

Eric Lund, owner of Veris Technologies, announced that dealers can get better reads on soil pH with a key update on the Veris Mobile Sensor Platform (MSP), an on-the-go pH and EC sensing and mapping system. “A new metal pH electrode has improved the performance significantly, improving data quality and reducing operating costs significantly,” says Lund. “Our clients are busier than ever, with more acres lined up for mapping.”

Handheld Heaven

Handheld computers such as iPAQs and PDAs have become a major tool for scouts who need to log data on soil sampling and pests. The PocketRecon from AgRenaissance runs on a PDA. “It’s been completely rewritten so it’s faster and better and can communicate wireless to a server,” says Krueger. “More importantly, it can now be customized for retailers, chemical companies, seed companies, and anyone else that is looking for a field collection tool that will communicate wirelessly back to the company server.”

Brian Stark, Farm Works marketing manager, says many veteran scouts are looking for something more rugged than an iPAQ. His company has offered the TitanRT for three seasons. This tough computer — an American Society of Agricultural Engineers AE 50 award winner — features a huge 8.5-inch diagonal screen and allows scouts to use their existing GPS receiver along with the Farm Works “Mate” programs to perform a wide range of tasks in the field.

Stark touts Trimble’s Nomad as a “new handheld device that’s been a very hot commodity with scouts. It offers built-in GPS and a rocket-fast processor that utilizes Windows Mobile 6. The screen is the same size as an iPAQ (3.5-inch diagonal), but nothing comes close when comparing other small rugged computers.” Now available is a new broadband wireless modem for the Nomad that allows users to communicate from the field to office or other locations where Sprint cellular connectivity is available in the U.S.

SST Software has its own entry in this arena, the SST Field PC. Mark Waits, marketing manager, says this ultra-rugged and ultra-efficient pocket-sized PC is shockproof and waterproof — and can come with SST Stratus installed. “Sealed CF and SD card slots can accommodate a GPS receiver, extra data storage, wi-fi, or cellular modem cards,” he says.

Even conventional iPAQs can be improved, Stark says, with Farm Works’ new Site Mate program interface. “The new interface makes for easy, quick data entry by providing larger buttons and more map area for viewing information,” he says. Scouts can avoid using the iPAQ stylus and use fewer clicks to navigate the program.

Data Management

Scouting data management is a big topic for tool developers these days. Krueger says many consultants are currently saving time by e-mailing field scouting reports from the truck in the field to a grower — who can then receive it on his cell phone and call the retailer to place an order. “Data also has to be shared across different systems and between retailers, applicators, labs, etc.,” he says.

Standardized data collection software is becoming more important to dealers, says Waits. “SST Summit and Stratus users can now ‘synchronize’ field data with any other Summit user with the click of a button,” he describes, so a grower and the service provider have full access to all historical data recorded on a farm.

“We’ve found that one of the biggest delays to having good records and maps is getting data from the field to the office. Too often we hear stories that people have a drawer full of data cards, USB drivers, or PDAs full of data,” says Stark. It often sits untapped because the user doesn’t have time to sit down and read it. Farm Works has released wireless programs called Farm Works Sync (for field data) and Farm Works Dispatch (for vehicle monitoring) that utilize a wireless system, typically cell services, to automatically transfer information from the field to the office.

Mark Bechdol, federal land and natural resources and agriculture lead with GIS specialist ESRI, says that in the next five to 10 years, cell phone-based GPS technology is going to be good enough to do serious scouting logging for growers and dealers. He describes how they could simply hit a field with an iPhone, make a voice recording of field notes on the phone, and tag it with the GPS location. “We’re going to have far more ability to collect data at any time, any place and it’s going to be pretty accurate,” he says. “But we’re going to have challenges in dealing with that amount of data — how do we process it, store it, and keep it secure?” Bechdol says ESRI has released its ArcGIS Mobile SDK (software development kit) that allows mobile field collection devices such as smartphones, Blackberry, iPhone, and Treo to do real-time editing of data with web browsers, “as if it were a mini GIS right there on your phone.”

A powerful “product” that service providers can offer their clients is real-time aggregate data reporting, says Waits. So many providers are collecting standardized data, why not pool it together in a decision support program? Participants in a data pool could remain anonymous but have access to query it or ask questions. “An example would be to map the movement of an insect or disease across a county, state, or regions in order to protect fields before the pest arrives,” explains Waits.

Leave a Reply

Software Stories

EquipmentDTN Launches Ag Retailer Focused Data Management Program
April 5, 2016
As farm data multiplies exponentially, ag retailers need help leveraging the power of big data to better serve their customers Read More
Junge Control Panels
SoftwarePlant Automation Takes Traceability To The Next Level
March 8, 2016
What began as a way to simply vary differing fertility products at different rates to create custom fertilizer blends — Read More
Tiger Sul Crop Nutrient Calculator
FertilizerH.J. Baker Launches New Nutrient Calculator App
November 12, 2015
H.J. Baker, a global agriculture firm, has launched a new agronomic nutrient calculator app. This innovative and powerful tool will Read More
Precision AgXS Inc. Expanding Ag Retail Reach With AgVeritas
November 5, 2015
AgVeritas, the patented cloud-based yield analysis application launched by XS Inc for the 2015 season, is making a significant impact Read More
Trending Articles
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Eyeing Monsanto For Possible Mega-Merger
May 16, 2016
Bayer AG is exploring a potential bid for U.S. competitor Monsanto Co. in a deal that would create the world’s Read More
Aerial Drone
Precision AgA Deeper Dive Into The Future Of Precision Ag
May 9, 2016
For about two decades now, through the good and the bad times, the ups and the downs inherent in agriculture, Read More
Palmer amaranth in soybean stubble
HerbicidesWSSA: Billions In Potential Economic Losses From Uncontrolled Weeds
May 4, 2016
What losses would corn and soybean growers experience if they were forced to eliminate herbicides and other control techniques from Read More
Eric SfiligojReasons For Hope In Commodity Prices
May 2, 2016
For many months now, the doomsayers have ruled the day in agriculture. Too much supply with too little demand would Read More
Eric SfiligojMissing The Family Ties In Agriculture
April 25, 2016
By its nature, the agriculture market is cyclical. Up and down cycles come and go with a regular pattern. For Read More
HerbicidesHerbicide Resistance In Waterhemp Continues To Grow
April 22, 2016
Twenty-five years ago, waterhemp was virtually unknown to Illinois farmers. Today, the broadleaf weed blankets corn and soybean fields across Read More
Latest News
Southern States Cooperative
Corn Field
Industry NewsTiger-Sul Names Veteran Account Manager To Lead Central…
May 23, 2016
With the continuing growth of the sulphur bentonite and precision crop nutrient industry, global agriculture firm H.J. Baker has announced that Read More
Bayer sign
Industry NewsReuters: Bayer Defies Critics With $62 Billion Monsanto…
May 23, 2016
German drugs and crop chemicals group Bayer has offered to buy U.S. seeds company Monsanto for $62 billion in cash, Read More
Eric SfiligojPity The Monsanto Haters
May 23, 2016
An old saying goes thus: “Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.” Given current events, there Read More
Industry NewsCompass Minerals Hires Industry Veteran To Lead Plant N…
May 19, 2016
Compass Minerals has hired plant nutrition industry veteran Vatren Jurin to steer the company’s portfolio expansion into specialty liquid micronutrient Read More
ASMARK Retailers LIVE! Tour 2016 Group shot The Andersons
CropLife 100The Andersons Rejects Unsolicited Proposal From HC2
May 19, 2016
The Andersons, Inc. has announced that its Board of Directors has rejected two non-binding, highly conditional, unsolicited proposals from HC2 Read More
glyphosate
Crop InputsWHO: Glyphosate ‘Unlikely’ To Cause Cancer
May 16, 2016
Via Reuters.com reporter Kate Kelland: The weed-killing pesticide glyphosate, made by Monsanto and widely used in agriculture and by gardeners, Read More
dicamba, Roundup Ready 2 Xtend
Crop InputsASA: No Dicamba On Roundup Ready 2 Xtend In 2016
May 16, 2016
While Roundup Ready 2 Xtend (RR2X) are tolerant to dicamba and glyphosate herbicides, no dicamba herbicides will be approved for Read More
CPP, glyphosate, dicamba, atrazine,
Crop InputsReport: Congress Pressing EPA On Glyphosate Review Hand…
May 16, 2016
Via Reuters.com reporter P.J. Huffstutter: U.S. lawmakers have asked EPA to explain why it published – and then withdrew – Read More
Monsanto Luling Plant
Crop InputsReport: Bayer Eyeing Monsanto For Possible Mega-Merger
May 16, 2016
Bayer AG is exploring a potential bid for U.S. competitor Monsanto Co. in a deal that would create the world’s Read More
ManagementAsmark Institute Tour Observations
May 12, 2016
Special Guest CropLife Field Editor Matthew Grassi discusses his week-long visit with 45 ag retailers as part of the Asmark Read More
MicronutrientsCompass Minerals Expands Trial Work For Wolf Trax Innov…
May 12, 2016
Fertilizer manufacturer Compass Minerals continues to expand the evaluation program for its Wolf Trax micronutrient fertilizer products, according to a Read More
Young Corn Closeup
Industry NewsArysta Adds To Marketing Team
May 12, 2016
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced the addition of David Davies to its marketing team. As marketing manager, Davies will Read More
Photo credit: The United Soybean Board/The Soybean Checkoff.
Crop InputsSyngenta Launches New Biological Seed Treatment
May 12, 2016
Syngenta has announced the launch of the EPIVIO brand family, a range of new biostimulants which address abiotic stresses through seed Read More
Crop Inputs2013 West Texas Tragedy Ruled A ‘Criminal ActR…
May 11, 2016
A 2013 fertilizer plant blast in West, TX, that killed 15 people and injured 160 others was caused by a Read More
Crop InputsLariat Partners Invests In Willowood USA
May 11, 2016
Lariat Partners, a Denver-based private equity firm, has made a significant investment in Willowood USA, a leading manufacturer of generic Read More
Anhydrous Ammonia tanks
LegislationARA: OSHA Announces PSM Formal Rulemaking Intentions
May 11, 2016
In separate communications earlier this week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced plans to conduct formal rulemaking to Read More
The Andersons Fostoria
StewardshipThe Andersons Facilities In Fostoria And Gibsonburg, OH…
May 11, 2016
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced that The Andersons, Inc.’s facilities in Fostoria and Gibsonburg, OH, have been added to its Read More