Farmers more and more embracing smart phone technology to boost efficiency
April 13, 2014
On Terry Walter's family ranch, workers used to yell across fields and wave their arms get another person's attention.
Mike Hungenberg, who farms near Greeley, Colo., used to spend hours in the morning driving to his pivots and checking for issues around his produce farm.
Mike Harper, who owns and operates Harper's Feedlots near Eaton, Colo., used to have to be on site to check on his animals.
But in many ways, those days are gone in the world of agriculture, at least for those who utilize smart phones.
Now, whatever the crucial farm task at hand, as the saying goes, "There's an app for that."
Walter, whose sons are the fourth generation working on his family ranch, said not that long ago, he probably would have made fun of others who are constantly on their smart phones. But now, phones are a staple in the daily operation. Walter said he and his employes can forego morning meetings because they all have phones and they're constantly in contact.
Recommended Stories For You
"It's a big part of our efficiency," he said.
Workers can text or call each other when they need help. When someone on the ranch needs a part to fix a piece of equipment, Walter said he's able to send a photo of the part to a dealer, and the dealer can send the part.
Walter is able to keep an eye on the Angus beef market with an app, and he's able to access information on his registered herd.
He said he's lost his smart phone many times — once in a pasture, once in a hay field at night, another time in a corral — but thanks to a GPS tracker, he's able to walk right to it. He said between that tracker and a heavy-duty case, his phone has so far survived the demanding work conditions of a ranch.
With water akin to gold these days, Hungenberg keeps a close eye on his irrigation systems to make sure they're functioning properly. While it used to take much of the morning to drive around and check pivots and pumps, Hungenberg said he and his family members who run the farm can control central pivots from their smart phones. Like Walter, Hungenberg said he takes full advantage of sending photos of parts to a dealer, helping to ensure he doesn't get the wrong one.
When it's time to plant his fields, Hungenberg said he can use his smart phone's GPS capabilities instead of walking his measuring wheel across the field. And when his carrots are ready to sell, he often sends photos of his product to potential buyers so they know what they'll be getting.
For Harper, keeping an eye on weather around his feedlot is crucial in his decision-making process, and his smart phone has made it easy for him to check weather details with an app. He's also able to see what's going on in the operation by accessing live video feeds on his phone.
Harper said it took some convincing for him to invest in a smart phone, but he's grown accustomed to utilizing it to stay up to speed on what's going on in his herd and in commodity markets. He can even monitor feed supplies from his phone.
"It's just at the tip of your fingers, if you have one," Harper said.
While Harper doesn't have to be on his property — or even in the same state — to see what's going on, he said he doesn't anticipate a day when he operates the feedlot remotely. He said it's still important to monitor things in person.
"You still have to be out there," he said. "You never want to lose your human touch."
Harper said he appreciates his smart phone, but there's a balance between utilizing his gadget and losing touch with face-to-face communication.
"I think people spend a little too much time on it," he said.
Walter said he never really took the time to imagine that he'd one day have a mini-computer in his pocket, and now he can't imagine being without his smart phone's capabilities.
"It's one of the things that's made ag better, if you want to embrace it," Walter said. ❖