Communications and Technology

Communications and Technology

Agricultural technology has evolved from shovels and horse-drawn plows to digital and wireless solutions for just about every aspect of farm management. More than ever before, owners of smaller farms can access the same resources and products their larger counterparts utilize on a routine basis.

Wireless technology is helping farmers and agricultural managers in a variety of ways. Better crop management, increased efficiency and higher profits are just a few of the benefits emerging from the growing use of digital management tools by today's connected farmers.

Software suites such as Farm Works, Apex, ABECAS Insight, FarmLogic, Winplant and others perform a wide range of functions that farmers used to handle manually or by taking notes in the field.

Most programs offer a variety of PC and mobile apps to help you manage your farm, crops and livestock, and to seamlessly transfer data from the field to the office and, ultimately, to the marketplace.

Agricultural smartphone apps are available for remote irrigation management, reference manuals, industry news, chemical application and more.

The Networked Farm

Farmers today depend on wireless communications as much as any urban professional, and a growing number of farms have installed Wi-Fi networks that allow farmers to log on from nearly anywhere on their land.

In addition to monitoring weather conditions and commodity prices directly in the tractor cab, farmers can also use their wireless networks to remain in touch with customers and suppliers, and to exchange planting, spraying or harvest data between the field and office.

Depending on the equipment and terrain, wireless farm networks can offer signal ranges of up to several miles. Access points, antennas, cameras and other equipment customized for outdoor installation can provide a reliable signal nearly anywhere on the farm, ensuring the flexibility of getting online and staying in touch when you need to.

During planting or harvest, for instance, you can monitor conditions and coordinate vehicle management by sending instructions to other workers or tractors.

Workers who encounter unfamiliar weeds or pests can investigate their questions by going online while still in the field or uploading images for further research.

Budding Technology

As small-farm operators increasingly use computers to run the business, software designers are coming up with programs that calculate everything from payroll taxes to feed formulations.

The following entries describe just a few of the many types of software targeting agricultural businesses:

  • Herd management - Functions include breeding-stock production tracking; measures of individual bull and cow performance; animal health functions; reproductive performance and progeny listings; seed stock operation and feed formulation.
  • Crop management - Programs in this category monitor harvest data; manure management; fertilizer and chemical application; crop varieties; planting cycles; tillage; and crop and field history. Some products offer visual crop planning tools and additional graphic functions.
  • Irrigation management software coordinates irrigation tasks; monitors water usage, costs and efficiency; adjusts inventory levels and expenses; and tracks chemical and active ingredients applied to individual crops.
  • Business management - Many genres of agricultural software include business management functions customized to the particular crop or product, although separate programs are available. Capabilities should include financial, tax and banking components, as well as payroll, staffing, cost estimate and form/report/spreadsheet utilities.

Look for products that synchronize with your existing word processing and productivity applications.

While less comprehensive programs may stint on support, the most useful (and more expensive) packages will offer, at minimum:

  • Toll-free help lines
  • Support sessions by appointment
  • Price breaks on phone consults
  • Tutorial/training components
  • Reasonably priced subscription services

Wireless Sensors

Another emerging technology that offers great potential for farmers of all sizes is the use of wireless sensors to monitor a variety of conditions that can affect crop yields.

Soil moisture and temperature, for instance, are critical factors in determining not only the success of crops but also in analyzing differences within specific plantings. By examining individual bales of cotton, for instance, and tracking those bales back to where they were grown, farmers can conduct further analysis to investigate the likely causes of any quality variations.

Software is also available to help farmers monitor equipment use and maintenance. By knowing where equipment is and when it's due for service, farmers can avoid costly breakdowns.

Farmers can also combine wireless and global positioning system (GPS) technologies to create highly detailed digital maps of their fields. They can use these maps to measure and monitor factors such as irrigation, crop yields, soil samples, and fertilizer or pesticide application.

Understanding and following proper watering techniques, for instance, can reduce the susceptibility of plants to rot, bacteria or fungi that rely on overly moist conditions.

If your farm includes a greenhouse, dedicated wireless climate management systems monitor and correct air and soil temperature and humidity, sunlight, and other factors that can influence the health of your plants.

Wireless video cameras, along with burglar and fire alarms, can also help farmers monitor their fields and barns. Motion sensors can provide immediate notification about unauthorized access or other potential problems.

Animal Management

Plants are not the only things on the farm to which wireless sensors are being applied. Livestock farmers have a variety of programs that can help track their herds' health and breeding records, and other important information.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and wireless temperature sensors are being inserted directly into the digestive tracts of dairy cows, for instance, to help farmers track their animals and monitor their health.

As a cow enters the milking shed, a reader records each animal's identity and temperature. By monitoring yields and temperatures, software can identify potential health issues before visible symptoms occur.

Popular livestock management software includes CattleWorks, CattleMax, Ranch Manager and others. Most applications include desktop and mobile versions to help farmers coordinate the collection and transfer of data from the field to office.