If you didn’t write it down it never happened — a lesson often learned the hard way. For field crop production, not having accessible records can range from not knowing when a disease or insect occurred to being in trouble with a regulatory agency. Fortunately, there are a lot of good smartphone and tablet apps that are specifically tailored to farm recordkeeping.
The integration of smartphones and tablets into our lives make them an excellent platform for keeping track of field records. A phone or tablet allows you to replace a camera, paper notebook and portable GPS unit with one device. With the right app you can enter field data, reference it to a mapped location and add a photo with a few swipes of your finger. And when set up with cloud storage there is no losing your records.
For this article I reviewed a handful of the free or free-to-try apps that are available on Apple IOS devices. Cost and device limitations kept me from purchasing multiple paid subscriptions or reviewing Android-only apps. If you are an Android user, many of the apps mentioned in this article are available on multiple platforms and hopefully the advice listed here will help in finding one that works for your operation.
What do I need to start?
Obviously, a smartphone is all you need to start. However, most of the apps I tried are much easier to use on a tablet than a phone as there is simply too much information that can be squeezed in a small screen. For Apple users this means investing a few hundred to over a thousand dollars in an iPad. For Android users, tablets can be picked up for not a lot of money.
If you’re buying a new tablet, the best option would be one that is LTE cellular-enabled. Many of the higher-featured apps that utilize aerial photography do so by accessing an online server (i.e., the photos are not stored on your device). A cellular-enabled device allows you to look at those photos in the field and quickly send data from your device. Also, if you want to use a tablet to physically map an area with GPS your device must have cellular capabilities, although the data plan does not need to be activated. If you have a tablet that is not cellular-enabled, a wireless hotspot can be utilized or your mobile phone can be activated as a hot spot.
Considerations when selecting an app
Ultimately, choosing the right app should come down to selecting one that you find to be intuitive and performs the functions that you need. The best way to figure that out is to download a couple and try them. The one that you can get up and running and be comfortable with in 20 minutes is the one you will enjoy using time and time again and will be the one you can easily re-learn for the first record of every spring. Once you narrow it down to a few here are some additional things to consider:
- Free apps can be good, but don’t expect them to do everything. All of the free or upgradeable apps will have varying levels of self-entered recordkeeping. If you foresee upgrading to a paid service in the future or needing more advanced features, trying out a few free apps will help you figure out what features and interfaces you like or don’t.
- If you’re in an area of poor cellular reception or are using a tablet without a data plan, choose an app that works well when offline. These can be synced when linked to a wi-fi connection or can be done manually over a cellular network (when enabled) when in an area of good reception.
- When looking at apps it is good to see what kind of support is available. Look at the website for the app to see what support information is available or if there is a way to contact the company. Also, check the version history in the app store to see how often things are updated.
- Understand what happens to your data. Since all of these apps are free or free-to-try, know what happens to your data. Read user agreements carefully and make sure you are comfortable with who can view your data.
- Know how your data is exported. In most cases, data can be emailed easily. However, know if that is in the form of text, a .pdf, or a .csv (comma separated values) file that can be exported to a spreadsheet. There are very few free programs that will export data as shapefiles (.shp) that can be processed for further analysis.
- Look at the web interface in addition to the app. Many of the apps listed will have the ability to be accessed from your computer, with data stored on a cloud server. Just as with an app, make sure that the computer interface is intuitive and easy to use.
- Think about your next step. Some of the apps listed offer premium services for a price. Know what that price is and the value you gain from stepping up.
CLICK HERE to view a table, which includes information about the apps I reviewed. The descriptions below lists a few of the apps that I downloaded on my iPad and tested. There are some that I tried and omitted due to crashing during use or difficulty in signing up for a trial period. The features in the column on the left are ones that I felt were noteworthy and can be used to help differentiate between apps.
Simple and straightforward apps
Many of the free-to-use or free-to-try apps fall into this category. These apps do not integrate GPS mapping from your device or marking field boundaries on an aerial photo. However, most of these apps will work well on a device that is not cellular enabled or where reception is poor. Although all of these apps do many of the same things, there are still features unique to each one.
If you’re looking for detailed recordkeeping sheets, eCropScout has room to add lots of information and the lists are customizable. There is an ability to add a map to each field although it is done by taking a screenshot of Google Maps and adding a picture to recordkeeping sheets. Completed reports can be made into .pdfs or accessed from the Prairie Farm Club website.
A unique feature of Farm Sage is the ability to keep track of grain contracts and farm inventories in addition to field recordkeeping. Photos can be added to the field notes section of the app and reports can be exported in excel-friendly formats.
Similar to Farm Sage, Farm at Hand incorporates tracking of equipment, grain storages, farm inventories and commodity contracts in addition to common field records. All data can be accessed from their web interface as well.
Crop Records has some higher-end features for a straightforward app. In addition to crop records the app keeps track of equipment and maintenance intervals. GPS can be used to help determine where fields are although they cannot be mapped. Data entry sections have dropdowns for seed hybrids, pests, crop protection products and common fertilizers as well.
The University of Nebraska’s Pesticide Record Keeping (PeRK) is a can be utilized by farmers or custom applicators and includes a detailed form for pesticide information, application methods and weather conditions. All products must be entered manually but they are saved for future entry. In addition all data can be exported as a .csv for use in most spreadsheets.
Iowa State University’s Pesticide and Field Records II is another spray-only that can be used by farmers or custom applicators. The app includes pre-populated lists of pesticides and fertilizers and application sites can be marked with GPS pins. All data can be exported as .pdf and emailed from the app.
Apps with GPS and GIS functionality
These apps have some higher-end features and include the ability to create field boundaries and calculate acreages from your mobile device or through the device’s GPS. In this case a cellular-enabled device is likely necessary for frustration-free use.
Sirrus is an application that can be utilized by both farmers and consultants. For seed and chemicals, lists are pre-populated so that you can select an item and the proper EPA registration number and additional information automatically comes up. Reports can be sent via email or stored on a cloud server, such as Google Drive. A final feature of the app is in-app weather information including cumulative rainfall for the area in which you’re working.
Trimble’s Ag Mobile app brings the applications of FarmWorks, Connected Farm and Agri-Data Solutions all under one umbrella. The app is very cost-driven in that it includes places to include input costs. In addition, the Trimble system allows for upgrading for higher-end features that interface with Trimble GPS products as well
AgDNA is different from others in that your GPS enabled phone or tablet can track your position in a field just as if you were using a dedicated GPS guidance system. Spaying lists are not pre-populated so all information needs to be entered manually. All data can be viewed on your office computer via the web to track records throughout the year.
Although primarily geared to consultants, AgraScout provides some functionality that makes scouting easy and effective. The app allows you to manage by grouping customers and scheduling tasks to groups of consultants. A nice feature of the app, are pictures of insects, weeds, diseases and stresses that can help in field diagnostics. The web interface is similar to the smartphone app which makes switching between the two easy.
FarmLogs is an app that puts recordkeeping, weather and soils all in one place. Although crop protection products are not automatically loaded like some apps, items entered are remembered for the next time past to that you only have to do it once. In addition, FarmLogs includes soil maps as well as predictions of rainfall and growing degree days. The program also brings gives the ability to import yield maps which is a rare feature in free apps.
Agworld has a lot of features that would appeal to crop consultants. Customers are established on a computer; fields can be mapped from a computer or your mobile device. A unique feature of the app is the integration of pesticide labels. When a pest is selected, related crop control products can be assigned with guidance for application rates, PPE requirements and restrictions and there is even a place to view pesticide labels. The program is workflow driven, allowing a field scout assign an applicator a “to-do” list. Costs for seed, fertilizer, pesticides and gross margins can accounted for as well.
App providers and pricing
|Sirrus||Free for base app. Additional functionality can be purchased with an annual subscription.||http://www.sstsoftware.com/|
|Trimble Ag Mobile||Free for base app. Additional functionality can be purchased with an annual subscription.||http://www.agriculture.trimble.com/|
|AgDNA||First 10 uploads per month are free. Additional uploads can be purchased with an annual subscription.||https://agdna.com/|
|Agrascout||One moth free trial. Per acre fee after that.||http://www.agrascout.com|
|FarmLogs||Free for base app. Additional functionality can be purchased with an annual subscription.||http://www.farmlogs.com|
|Crop Records||Free for smartphone app. Desktop program requires yearly subscription.||http://www.croprecords.com|
|Farm at Hand||Free||http://www.farmathand.com|
|Pesticide Record Keeping (PeRK)||Free|
|AgWorld||30 day free trial. Annual subscription fee after that.||www.agworld.com|
|Pesticide and Field Records II||Free|
Questions: Zachary Larson (email@example.com)