Smartphone apps aren’t just for social networking or entertainment. There is almost a daily increase in apps that use smartphone technology to help ag professionals do their job.

Farmers and ag professionals can use apps on smartphones or tablet computers for everything from staying up to date on agriculture news to calculating sprayer tank mix ratios, noted Kent Shannon, University of Missouri Extension natural resource engineering specialist, who is trying to educate the agricultural industry to the potential value of apps and mobile connectivity to websites.

Shannon said new and more powerful farm-related apps are being developed all the time as smartphone usage expands and technology evolves.

In the early days of cell phones, farmers would get disgusted if someone called them to waste their minutes being charged for cell phone use. Today, most cell phones are on a unlimited useage plan, and that is the way they can be used—unlimited.

Also relatively new is all the geo-referencing via GPS data allowing for precise repetitive tracking across a field and locating field conditions—weed, insect, disease, fertility. Put the geo-referencing together with apps and you have powerful computer-stored information.

“In the area of precision agriculture, there are apps that we can collect geo-reference GPS data from,” Shannon said. “That allows us to do a better job of recording things in the field.”

He said, “By having information right there at your fingertips, you don’t have to go back to the office and get on a computer,” Shannon said. “You can make decisions right there in the cab of the [pickup,] tractor or combine.”

Smartphones and tablets are so handy that they can sometimes be used in the open field, but seeing the screen in bright sunlight can be difficult with some of these units and should be a consideration when buying a unit.

Shannon noted that producers are becoming able to use a tablet or smartphone to access diagnostic information on their equipment, anything from oil levels to hours run and even allowing them to diagnose repairs if the equipment breaks down. Many ag retailers and custom applicators have contracted and installed this service on their vehicle and applicator fleet.

Some of the other capabilities from apps include weed identification, remotely turning equipment such as pivot irritation pumps on and off, sprayer calibration, recording a season’s worth of field data, inventory control and dozens more functions.   

As the cell useage plans have changed, so has the availability of cell and wireless coverage in rural areas. Reliability of wireless phone service and speed of Internet connections can vary greatly by location and service provider. A little investigating needs to be done to determine the best service provider possible.

The cost of a smartphone or tablet will result in a quick return on investment, especially as more apps and website-based offerings are available to simplify business and provide fingertip information to the user. The question has actually become how can a crop consultant, ag retailer agronomist or custom applicator get by without mobile connectivity and ability to use all the apps.

Shannon notes that a lot of available apps are free. “Just try it,” Shannon said. “If it is a free app, it doesn’t cost you anything to try it. You can always delete it off your device, but you can see what the app offers.”