by Tamara Scully
Technology is impacting day-to-day farming operations, whether your farm is large or small. While the price tag that comes with some of this technology may be a barrier to many small farmers, there is a type of technology which can offer farmers high-tech information, without a large investment in specialized equipment: the cell phone app.
When Heather Darby, University of Vermont agronomist, was working with farmers to develop manure management plans, she noticed that every farmer seemed to have a cell phone, yet many did not routinely use computers or software in their record keeping. Instead, many records seemed to be kept on scrap pieces of paper with no apparent organizational system.
There seemed to be “a lot of barriers to using computers,” Darby said, “farmers were not keeping very good records. We were pretty much in the stone age.”
Likewise, Jill Heemstra, University of Nebraska Extension, was seeking a way to “increase the integrity” of farmers’ records, and decrease their bookkeeping workload. When cumbersome clipboards were being carried into the fields, and written data needed to be inputted into computer systems, many farmers simply were not keeping accurate records. She, too, noted that every farmer always seemed to have a cell phone when out in the field, and began to explore the development of an app which would allow farmers to access manure management data and easily perform record keeping while in the fields.
Heemstra set out to determine whether a mobile cell phone app could “be a viable way to help improve the manure management practices and help with the ease of record keeping.”
Meanwhile, at Utah State University, Rhonda Miller noted that area farmers needed something to “help simplify (their) manure management record keeping,” and “replace the little spiral notebook.” Farmers used to keep their records in the notebook, tucked into the pocket of their bib overalls, she said. Instead, today’s farmers always have a cell phone in the pockets of their jeans.
What the apps do
Karl VanDevender, of the University of Arkansas, was also involved in the development of a manure management app. In this case, the app was meant to help answer a common question asked by farmers: how much is their manure worth?
If an app could provide “a possible way to help farmers put a value on their manure,” it would assist with manure management decisions.
The Manure Valuator App does just that, VanDevender said. Farmers input their local per ton or per pound price of nitrogen(N), potassium (K) and phosphorous (P). They then enter their soil test recommendations in pounds/acre, the amount of NPK in their manure, and the manure application rate. The app calculates the results, providing the farmer with the value of the manure if it were applied at the recommended rate, the value as applied at the actual rate, and whether the fertilizer was over-applied or under-applied.
The end result is that farmers can now, in real-time, obtain the value of the manure they applied to a particular field, at a particular rate. If their field did not require all of the nutrients applied, the manure may have retained more value if sold to a neighbor, whose fields did need the nutrients. By not utilizing the full potential of the manure, value can be lost, VanDevender said, and using the app can assist farmers in maximizing manure’s value.
The Manure Calculator app from the University of Nebraska Extension, has three steps. First, the farmer enters information on how much manure was actually spread. There are options for entering field data, application method and for calibrating the application amount. Farmers can use their actual nutrient costs, or can use data updated monthly provided with the app.
The app will calculate the amount of nutrients applied, supplying farmers with “how many nutrients were put out when you spread that manure,” Heemstra said. The Manure Calculator app will also help farmers answer “what is this manure worth as far as its fertilizer value?”
The Manure Calculator app also has an emergency action plan portion. This was designed to help all farm personnel in case of an emergency, be it a small manure storage spill or a catastrophic event. The app allows emergency steps to be entered for liquid or solid manure incidents, or for other situations. It also functions to store equipment maintenance data and storage systems information.
Why the apps work
The University of Vermont’s goCrop platform is both a web app and a mobile app. Designed for writing a manure management plan, the web app was meant to be a step-by-step method for building and maintaining the plan year after year, Darby said. The mobile app was so farmers could “see what they were supposed to do,” by referring to the plan when out in the fields. When in areas without cell phone service, the mobile app can still be used to store data and keep records, which can then be uploaded when within service range.
“It’s an integrated tool,” Darby said. “This is really a business management tool.”
The Critical Records of Animal Production app from Utah State University allows data entry for manure application, incorporation and transfer events. Specific data, such as waterline locations or manure lagoon depth can be stored. If multiple loads of manure are applied to the same field, the data does not have to be re-entered, and all records can be exported and emailed.
The app is designed “to help minimize how much data entry you need to do,” Miller said.
The development of these manure management apps is ongoing. Apps are updated to meet additional needs of the farmers, or to meet the needs of farmers outside of the original target group. As educators learn more about how farmers wish to use the apps, and what additional functions could assist with proper manure management and record keeping, the apps can be made more functional.
These apps were primarily developed in direct response to an immediate producer need, in an attempt to streamline manure management for farmers who all had cell phones, but may not have been technologically connected in any other way.
Information on these apps can be found at: www.extension.org .