On the Go with Mobile Tools in Precision Agriculture
Agriculture has always been a ripe market for tools that take the power of the computer out to where the action is — in the middle of a 1,000-acre field of corn, at an impromptu meeting in the farmer’s driveway, or out at the remote seed storage facility. Driven by the desire to provide access to information, and the ability to record data, the number of systems, tools, and applications released on the industry the past two decades is stunning.
From humble beginnings — taking notes on rudimentary portables like the Compaq iPaq, or lugging around a ruggedized laptop — to today’s all-in-one convenience of software and applications on the mobile phone, the industry has come an awfully long way.
What’s driving products and development now is access to data that is flexible and useful for anyone who needs it, regardless of where they are. Improving connectivity, cooperation among suppliers, and the emergence of the cell phone as the predominant “weapon of choice” at every level agriculture are allowing best-in-breed software, applications, and systems to emerge from a crowded field — allowing retailers to improve internal communication as well as customer service.
“We’re seeing more and more people using mobile devices, so, with our newest products, everything is mobile — not just the app,” says David Craft, of software manufacturer SSI. “Mobile-first is the way we designed our website, so that account functions are all responsive and look really good on smaller devices. Today mobile is about accessing information regardless of your role, the type of information you need, and wherever you are.”
Along with the move to mobile is the evolving demands that innovation places on manufacturers, a reality that’s both exciting and nerve-racking. “Evolution comes from the needs of the clients, but, like any technology, we’re never entirely sure how everyone will use it,” notes Michael Kremer, Head of Marketing at AgriSync. VoiceHub, the company’s recently added solution for centralizing and managing voice messaging from customers and colleagues, has significantly changed the way customers interact with the program, which leads to more program evolution.
There is also the constant pressure to move innovation that succeeds in consumer markets into agriculture. “Everything from what’s in your kitchen to what’s in your car today, we’re looking to utilize and incorporate into our technology,” Kremer says.
Smartphones Take Over
Not long ago, tablets were at the apex of adoption, with the proliferation of tools like FieldView. It seemed as though they would become the dominant mobile technology of choice, but while tablets have found a secure home working on higher-end functions like soil tests on ATVs, adoption has taken a significant shift toward larger and more powerful smartphones.
“If you had asked me five years ago, I would have said that farmers are not going to use the smartphone like they are now,” says Scott Nusbaum, Product Manager at Trimble, which, among many products, offers software for farmers (Farmer Core) and retail agronomists (Advisor Prime) to collect and manage field information. “Screens have gotten larger, and, with data available in the cloud, it’s easy to get access to it.”
SSI’s Craft says that cell coverage in general, the speed of the mobile phone, and improved capability to cache data when phones are out of signal range has helped tilt the scale toward the smartphone.
Among farmers, the overall utility of the smartphone has opened the door for even skeptical producers to adopt the technology and quickly look for other ways to utilize its abilities. Trimble’s Nusbaum says that the lure of data access via smartphone is enticing traditionally technology-wary farmers to step away from the flip phone.
More Efficiency, Collaboration
The increasing ubiquity of the smartphone and adoption of cloud-based software and systems is allowing software manufacturers to improve the interactivity aspects of mobile tools. A number of capability introductions have been introduced in recent months that have been embraced by the market, and those interviewed promise significant functionality upgrades will be available in the weeks and months ahead.
Trimble added significant punch to its Farmer Core offering with AutoSync, a feature that runs in the background and automatically syncs guidance lines, field names, boundaries, landmarks, and operator information across all connected devices, Nusbaum says. Ultimately this data, improved by automated transfer and synchronization, can be made available to the agronomist through the Advisor Prime professional platform.
Software and data services company Proagrica is also focused on providing more depth to its mobile tool, Sirrus — in particular, the premium offering for professional agronomists, says Colt Silvers. Fertilizer recommendation editing, product labels and MSDS, variety tech sheets, in-season imagery for crop scouting, and premium PDF-based reports to support recommendations are all part of the Sirrus offering. Also on the horizon is a Sirrus app for Android phones.
Silvers says that farmer-clients are very interested in in-season feedback that can be shared on mobile systems, such as weed monitoring and crop health status. “What we’re shooting toward is presenting an understanding of what’s going on in the field without having to make a phone call,” Silvers says.
Delivering more power to agronomists and farmer-customers on the go is an important component to SSI’s Agvance SKY, the company’s effort to maximize the availability, accessibility, and flexibility of data and information. By focusing on broad compatibility with third-party systems and a cloud-based platform, end-users will be able to shape the product in whatever way meets the needs of the business.
“We’re trying to deliver to users the products and services they want, but we ultimately want them to do is build a dashboard that meets the unique needs of their operation,” Craft says. “Giving them the ability to control the experience is important.”
Mobile tools are evolving in a hurry, and every company interviewed indicated that new product and capability releases are coming out this summer and fall — which is good news for agronomists on the go.
Platform Helps Retailers Gain on Grain
Mega-grain operations have had the upper hand as far as automating the grain managment process, which is why Myriad Mobile originally launched the Bushel software platform for small- to upper-mid-sized grain-handling facilities.
Retailers can brand the white-label platform and engage directly in grain transactions with farmer customers, who can gain access to contracts, scale tickets, balances, and some agronomy features.
The farmer experience is similar to a mobile banking app for the farmer, says CEO Jake Joraanstad. For more information visit bushel.ag.