New app manages farm information wirelessly

Scott Andrew was a computer savvy young farmer, but he wondered why was he still spending hours piecing together the bits and bytes of information produced on his farm.

“It was three or four years ago and I started recording information on my smartphone,” said Andrew, who farms near Darlingford, Man.

“It was better than a notebook, but I still needed to take written information from everyone else and in some cases from me too.”

He decided he needed to find a partner to create a portable tool that would take advantage of smartphone technology. The result was FarmDock, an application for Apple and Android phones with an online desktop feature to act as the home base for farm activity information.

Andrew initially wanted to use his phone to record and organize farm data but found he was limited to using a calendar application to create notes about his daily activities.

As for his other family members working on the farm, they were still recording their jobs and inventory changes on notebooks and pads of paper. This meant Andrew spent a lot of time collating and entering the information into a separate program to track farm inventories and work.

He also needed to make multiple phone calls during the day when work assignments were changed.

“In the growing season, things change pretty fast. There is a lot of activity and keeping track of everything, and everyone can get pretty frustrated,” he said.

“Stuff gets skipped and forgotten. Inventory gets depleted and even grain can be misplaced.”

Andrew approached Winnipeg agricultural publisher Farm Business Communications with his ideas about creating an application for the internet and smartphones.

“They had some ideas about how they could build the software and store the data on the cloud,” he said.

“It took a couple of years to get it they way we wanted it, but this spring it’s available.”

FarmDock allows producers to create a virtual farm, with land, staff, machinery and bins. It also inputs inventories and assigns farm work.

Assignments can be made from the internet dashboard or iPhone or Android device, including Android and internet capable tablets. Changes to the farm are instantly visible for everyone who has access to the farm’s secure FarmDock website.

For example, a field job can be created for spraying that includes inventory from the chemical room, the labour that is assigned and the email address of the person doing the work. It can also account for fuel used by the sprayer and tender.

The system can’t import data from existing spreadsheets, but it does allow producers to accumulate information over time.

A sprayer or tractor can be added to the machinery list as they are used for the first time. After that, they will be available on an ongoing basis from a drop down menu.

The same applies to all areas of the software. Workers can be added, hours recorded and job progress logged and eventually marked as completed. Notes and photographs can be added to jobs and field locations, making weed and insect identification more easily accomplished.

Photographs can also be added of machinery breakdowns if parts need to be identified and of crop conditions if advice is needed.

Machinery hours can be logged and fuel use recorded. Notes about machinery service times can be placed in an individual machine’s notation section so that oil changes and lubrication schedules are followed and can be checked off for others to see.

The instant wireless communication allows everyone to be “on the same page.”

Future updates of the original version of the program are free. New versions with expanded features are planned for the future, and Farm Media, which includes Farm Business Communications and The Western Producer, is soliciting input from users for improvements to the FarmDock website.

The price for future versions has yet to be determined.

The product will be available from all divisions of FarmMedia in the future. Farmers can sign up for free access at www.FarmDock.com, with downloads of the applications available on the Apple App Store and Google’s www.play.google.com/store.

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