Have smartphones become essential farm equipment?

By Joanna England
Farming is the latest industry to benefit from mobile technology, new reports suggest...

From organisational apps to eCommerce, the face of farming is changing as agricultural industries discover just how useful the latest tech can be.

A new report from the World Economic Forum suggests mobile internet and digital technologies have impacted greatly on China’s farming community, spawning a new generation of rural and e-commerce driven entrepreneurs. 

Developers are constantly inventing creative applications that can be used to assist farmers, helping them run their businesses more efficiently straight from the field – or even from the seat of a combine harvester. 

FarmVisionAI, an award-winning Agriculture AI company, has just announced the launch of their AI-driven mobile app. The software has been designed to engage growers in-field using vision AI stress detections. The idea is that AI can be used on a smartphone platform carried by staff scouting plants and walking around the farm.

The app is location-specific and gathers information visually, with close-up pictures snapped on the mobile camera. The pictures are geo-tagged and made available in the desktop application. FarVisionAI shows the farm in a “google-earth” format – but with the advantage that recommendations and actions can be added as notes to the imagery. These help farming teams understand the stages of the grow. The web app provides farmers with a simple platform to experiment and learn how AI can give their businesses better profit and productivity.

Mark McDevitt, FarmVisionAI horticulture science leader explains, “It allows for analysis and diagnosis from individuals from anywhere in the world. And third, it’s a repository for intellectual property in the form of visually based growing knowledge, specific to that site, that can be used for training, benchmarking and SOPs.”

However, such apps are useful only in regions where connectivity is strong. According to the World Economic Forum, rural farming communities in China have historically been cut off from modern life. In March 2020, these communities registered a 64% Internet penetration rate. But with more investment, the push towards a 'Digital China' will further revitalise these areas. 

In places where infrastructure is undeveloped, payments via mobile phone are far more popular than cash transactions. Mobiles are also the preferred device as opposed to laptops or desktops. 

Digitisation has already empowered Chinese farmers, enabling them to reach a wider market. Where once they sold goods by the side of the road, now, they can be online merchants. With the increased demand for farm produce in metropolitan areas, farmers can sell far greater volumes of produce via the internet, than they ever could from their street stalls.

E-commerce portals like Pinduoduo assist the process with aggregated user interests and demand. Farmers can then adjust their production and sales plans accordingly.  

AI imaging apps

New apps specially designed to assist farmers and streamline their workflows are proving massively popular with farmers in the West.

The Canadian tech company, XpertSea is transforming global aquaculture industry farming methods with its farm management platform, XperCount. The award-winning platform can be used from any smartphone and provides actionable insights motivated by AI. 

The software enables shrimp farmers to count, size, weight, and image animal samples using a smartphone with a camera – replacing 6kgs of hardware previously used to carry out the same task. The app manages data collection for shrimp farmers. The data helps farmers tailor their feed regimes and identify issues. It also replaces the time-consuming manual sampling of shrimp populations. 

Valerie Robitaille, XpertSea’s Co-Founder and CEO said. “Too many shrimp farmers operate without the benefit of accurate, standardised data, and this hinders their operations and hurts their bottom line. We wanted to create an easily accessible, ultra-portable tool that would make data collection fast, easy, and reliable so that any farmer can unlock better crops and financial outcomes. With our mobile app, farmers of any size and means can use their phone to monitor pond growth and make better decisions, which improves profitability and sustainability.”

Farm-friendly business apps

There are several standard business apps in use that can streamline the farming process. Trello was developed by Fog Creek Software back in 2011 and has undergone numerous updates. Though not specifically designed for farming, it does provide a back-office platform that enables farmers to track their movements, share information with their teams and calculate insights, all within an easy-to-use, updatable mobile app.  

GoogleSheets is another handy app that is popular in the agricultural community. It provides an open, working document that can be used for notes, tallies and calculations and is available in browser format too.  

Speaking to Agrinews, Dennis Buckmaster, an agricultural and biological engineering professor at Purdue University, commented, “This [GoogleSheets] huge matrix of cells is just waiting for you to put information into that you might share or keep to yourself — tax numbers, formulas, hyperlinks, comments and notes. Sharing is very important. It’s important that you share wisely. You can share it so that nobody can see it, you can share it to a controlled group by email address, or you can make it so that anyone could read or edit it.”

CONTxT is a farming-specific app which is a progressive web app. It runs in a browser but behaves like a downloaded app. CONTxT stores information on the spot, detailing notes on yield maps and scouting reports that it then files in a GoogleSheets. 

Buckmaster added that mobile apps have been revolutionary to farmers, who have traditionally used the most basic of tools to log and distribute information. He said, “It’s taking the place of the notebook that you might have once kept on the dashboard of the combine or pick-up truck — but it’s always in the wrong place. So, here’s a way to always have these things with you and a way to share them with trusted people.”


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