Apps to the future....Department's Beef PriceWatch
The advent of data-rich 'apps' for mobile devices is transforming farming
More than 16,000 farmers used the Department of Agriculture's Beef PriceWatch' application for mobile devices last week. It's an impressive figure given the 'app' was only launched three weeks ago and underlines the growing use of mobile technology by Irish farmers to access crucial market and management information.
The use of these apps - which cover a multiplicity of farm tasks from calculating grass cover or fertiliser requirements, to the breeding cycles of cows, and from the weighing of cattle to measuring the daily ratios of feed and grass they require - is fast becoming an essential part of farming.
While the Department only introduced the beef price app in an attempt to bring a degree of price transparency to the ongoing beef price crisis, the level of 'hits' at the site is indicative of how the use of this type of technology is becoming increasingly important in the lives of farmers.
It also shows that we are not too far from an era when the iPhone or computer screen will be among the most valuable of pieces of equipment for the busy farmer.
Most of the country's agri manufacturers like Keenans and Dairymaster are now actively designing downstream farm apps with their products, as are big name tractor companies like John Deere and New Holland.
In addition, a number of independent app designers have hit the headlines with innovative new applications.
One such independent company is Smartfarmsapps.com based in Killarney, which has been regularly in the top three on Google in terms of app sales since its inception just over three years ago.
The company is headed up by dairy engineer Tommie Slattery, who says the appetite for these farm apps among the farming community is enormous.
"The fear of technology is disappearing faster among the farming community than among other communities in Ireland probably because technology of all sorts is becoming a greater part of the farming scene,'' he told the Farming Independent this week.
"Most farming enterprises depend on accurate information on grass growth or milk solids and these smart phone apps provide this information.
"The apps have replaced the guesswork and farming instinct which farmers used to rely upon and they obviously have a positive knock-on effect on the profitability of the farming enterprise,'' he added.
His company has four applications and three upgrades on the 'iPhone market' at the moment with the most popular being its grass rotation app which is a grazing management application which retails at €25.
Other products in the Smartphone stable include an app to monitor the breeding cycles of cows (€10), a milk solids converter (€10) and an events app which records critical events in the lives of dairy cows; vet visits and medication intakes.
All these app ideas arose from Slattery's day-to-day dealings with farmers from his work as a dairy engineer with his father's (Eddie Slattery) DeLaval dairy franchise in Kerry.
Along with his partner, computer scientist Ryan Garner, they developed their app ideas with graphic designers in India.
"We priced designers in the USA, Ireland and Britain and the Indians were the most economic,'' says Tommy.
All their apps are marketed through the Apple platform which comes with a 30pc fee for its worldwide commercial window. Sales so far, in terms of volume, come mainly from the USA, New Zealand, Ireland, Britain and Europe.
The company is currently developing an app for weighing cattle which will be in the app store before Christmas.
On a larger scale, companies like Dairymaster, Gavico, Moocall, BASF and Farmflo have been developing their own apps which are particular to their given area of the agriculture.
BASF have produced apps which deal with cereal diseases and weeds, while the Farm Relief Service (FRS) has developed Herdwatch which helps the farmer monitor his herd using his iPhone.
Dairymaster have also been leading developers of apps for the dairy industry and are currently working on an 'add-on' to their hugely popular Moo Monitor range.
The idea is simple. A 'necklace' is attached to the Moo Monitor which allows the farmer to spot when animals come in-calf or when it is battling disease or infection.
This simple additional information can potentially save the farmer €250 for every heat missed and will also report back by iPhone when an animal is ill or is failing to thrive.
The company, which is based in Causeway in Co Kerry, claim the device allows farmers to survey their herds 'from the comfort of their pockets' thereby freeing up considerable time for other farming and non-farming pursuits.
The device saves the information to the cloud and allows the farmer to pick up the information from a wide range of new technology devices from androids to the web itself.
It also updates the information every 15 minutes giving the farmer immediate information on any health issues detected within his herd. It can also be used by vets and AI tech-nicians.
The multiplicity of farm apps on the market has not gone unnoticed by Teagasc who themselves have developed a fertiliser app with Vodaphone which allows the farmer to plug in their maximum nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium allowances for their farm.
These are then set against fertiliser purchases throughout the year to produce a rolling balance which shows how much fertiliser they can continue to use.
This app is expected to become particularly useful when the long-awaited GLAS scheme comes into operation.
Teagasc is also in the process of developing an annual 'farm app list' which will rate the merits of every farm app on the market. A league of available apps if you like.
No date has been set for the publication of this 'league' - but hopefully it will materialise before these iPhone innovators develop a farm app which allows a cow to jump over the moon and the farmyard dog to run away with the spoon.
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