There are many speculations around exploiting smartphones to increase yields and profits of farmers worldwide. Many agritech news focus on mobile applications as a part of precision agriculture, which help with accuracy of tracking the plants growth and fuel decision-making process with more trusted data about crops. At the same time, there are still plenty of uncertainties in terms of how to use a smartphone in agriculture for small scale farming and get more money at the end of the season. Hence, today we will review real tools, which can help farmers to be more productive, save money and predict yield.
Smartphone In Agriculture As The Main Instrument
According to FAO, mobile technologies in agriculture have already served as a positive factor in improving small scale farmers’ access to information. Each smartphone in agriculture helps to get better inputs and reach markets, increase production and productivity but reduce operational costs.
As a result, development of a specific mobile applications for growers of particular crops is an effective way how to boost their productivity and get better annual yield.
Smart farming though is a relatively new term, but it is growing at a great pace. In the last couple of years, you might have noticed that despite fundamentals remaining same, the opportunities in front of a farmer and agronomist have changed and became wider. This includes:
- Farm management platforms;
- Drone-based solutions, UAVs and remote sensing;
- Precision farming mobile applications and industrial solutions in the following areas:
1. Pest management;
2. IOT and data-enabled farming (such as different sensors);
3. Smart irrigation.
- Novel farming systems and solutions for urban farming including vertical farming as well as controlled-environment agriculture (CEA).
Global players of agriculture industry like Bayer, Basf, Yara and Syngenta are making a switch to mobile. These companies, literally, give a smartphone to each employee to enable data-collection and data-driven decisions on each step of agriculture production. At the same time, without deep understanding the benefits of this switch to use smartphone in agriculture, there is no point for change; it will not give as much outcome as it can. As a result, it is important to see the real difference between traditional farming and smart farming, when smartphone in agriculture is a must-have thing.
Benefits of Smart Agriculture and Digital Farming
Though the goals behind the walkthrough of a traditional farming and growing crops with agriculture technologies is same, the moves differ. Let’s learn about a few of them.
1. Prioritising effective work with information about crops
While a traditional farmer or agronomist-consultant has to plan and execute keeping in mind and on random notebooks the vast world of crops, their development characteristics (such as growth rates, leaf area index, pest management, etc.), for smart farming things change. Smartphone in agriculture plays a role of all-in-one advisor starting from weather forecast and history but finishing with particular dosage of either organic or inorganic fertiliser to treat Nitrogen deficiency. Plus good data can boost growth and efficiency at the farm of any type. And the value of the farming data only increases at an exponential rate.
2. Mobile-first and accessible everywhere
The world is at the fingertips and farmers can get access to any information from anywhere. It does not matter are they in a field with limited access to the Internet, in a greenhouse or stay home. If a farmer uses smartphone in agriculture business, it gets him the information he needs, regardless of where he is accessing it from. When agronomists look something up on their mobile device, they want quality content that answers their questions about crops or helps them make a particular decision about specific field. A mobile-first approach, which showcases the most important content, clearly helps to meet that need.
As a result, the obvious two benefits of mobile first design and mobile applications, accessible everywhere, are the following:
- a farmer gets compressed and simplified information down into a much more manageable and easy-to-understand chunk;
- in fact, mobile first means “content first”. Hence, a farmer does not get excessive information but only relevant and the most important.
3. Each worker can use smartphone in agriculture from day one
This is something incredibly important: in many cases, a farmer or agronomist does not need to learn how to use a mobile application for agriculture. Most of them have intuitive and user-friendly design, which makes experience of crop scouting, leaf area index measurement or seed counting less time consuming.
4. Share data and set roles in crop team
Smart farming solutions have a core idea of easily shareable reports, photos and videos. Additionally, if the team of growers is big there is an option of roles and authorisation of access. For example, all information about crop scouting, which a farmer enters into a cloud-based mobile application, can be instantly accessed by team members despite their locations. This will increase productivity levels, and in turn benefit both for individual growers and agricultural business.
5. Sustainable farming and traceability of products
Sustainability is one of the core goals of modern agriculture. Sustainable farming is an ideal format of agriculture business and stands for the ability to exist constantly with less harm to the environment. Precision farming helps to improve sustainability of each grower and reduce environmental impacts like greenhouse gas emissions, pesticide pollution and soil erosion.
Additionally, integrating agriculture technologies in farming helps to improve traceability, which is a vital part of sustainable agriculture. In fact, a smartphone in agriculture is the only tool available for any farmer on the planet to make input about the crops. This is the first step for traceability. It creates informational basis to identify and trace the history, distribution, location and application of products.
6. Autonomic mode of work and grow
There is a big hype around the topic of automatic solutions for farming. For example, robotics and automation in agriculture is completely reasonably one of the most trendy topics in global agenda. This aspect has a very simple explanation – technologists outperformed farmers in terms of the average yield and return on investment. Automation and robotics make farms more efficient but it’s not about eliminating farm jobs.
For example, robotics is one of the most time-saving innovations in the agricultural industry. At the same time, it requires regular technical support and qualified stuff to take care about agricultural robots and repair works. As a result, improvements and application of mobile technologies and robotics in agriculture requires better educated people to work.
Disadvantages of Using Smartphones in Agriculture
If smart agriculture has so massive advantages, indeed, it must have disadvantages. The top-3 disadvantages have a link to the most crucial components of agriculture business such as people, money and time.
To work on a tractor with innovative sprayer or to fly drone for NDVI map, the personnel has to be better qualified and get basic (or sometimes even advanced) level of proficiency in digital technologies. Additionally, knowledge about particular technology in smart farming is not the same as the general knowledge about digital technologies. It requires more time and money for educating people and certifying their level of expertise. Without appropriate knowledge, your farming team can make the incorrect choice with technology and the ways how to implement smart farming.
If you have ever tried to modernise your farm, you know what we mean. It’s expensive. Buying innovative solutions or even a smartphone in agriculture cost money.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have an endless pool of financial resources for innovative farming? Unfortunately, that is not the reality of an ordinary farmer. It is likely that you will face some budgetary constraints. As a result, they may limit any part of your digital transformation journey in agriculture.
While the digital transformation may require new, and sometimes substantial, investments in your farm, people and customers, remember this is not a race. When you build a digital transformation strategy for your farm, use your budget as a reality check. In other words, you need to see how much your agriculture business can handle. You need to develop a plan that involves several phases over several years, if that’s what is required. You should not put your farm at risk over budgetary issues.
Even you’ll get crop monitoring solutions, it will provide the first significant reports in days. But sometimes, in worst case scenario, it will take months. In fact, a large productivity dividend from digitization will only appear once farms and agriculture companies absorb digital technologies in their business workflow practices. However, this takes time.
Guide how to start to use smartphone in agriculture more frequently
If you have already thought on the topic to bring farm innovations and use a smartphone in agriculture, then now is the best time to start. You will never be late to switch back to traditional agriculture if you won’t like the smart farming. However, the chances are high that you will like it. Agritech gives you more time for yourself, for your family and hobbies. If you can manage farming tasks in the smartphone, then you feel less rushed and more advanced in coping with other issues of farming business. As a result, let’s consider thoroughly each important aspect to enable agriculture technologies at your farm. In fact, the best way to do this is to answer our regular questions: when, how, why and what?
When to start to use agriculture technologies at the farm?
Indeed, now is the best time to start modernisation in the farming business. However, do not hurry up and make fast unreasonable decisions. The overall process to unlock the potential for data-driven farming will take not days but months and years to succeed. As a result, you need to plan to progress gradually towards the final goal of smart farming in your own agriculture business. There are some basic tips regarding the most appropriate time to start modernisation:
Plan digital transformation for your farm in winter or between the growing seasons
First of all, you need to sit and think what type of farm innovation do you want? What results do you plan to achieve with them? What budget (including external financing) do you have for bringing a smartphone in agriculture business?
Answers to these questions require a couple of hours of reading, thinking and researching. Hence, it is impossible to make decision about digital farming transformation when you are under stress of growers’ routine or in harvesting time.
Make an individual agritech roadmap to clarify milestones and deadlines
You are the only person who knows the business schedule of your farm and your personal life. Hence, before any significant steps towards digitising farming and bringing a smartphone to agriculture business, you must sit and create an agritech roadmap. This is a plan when do you want to start. It also includes key dates when you would like to see first results. Also, you must put information when you cannot do anything because of your own wedding or other important occasion.
Speak to your staff to prepare them. Ask about the feedback about their readiness to support the agritech innovations
You are the driver of the changes in farm business but actual performance relies on your employees. As a result, you need to make your team ready for connecting agritech solutions to there everyday routine of growers and livestock carers through a structured digital channel.
Start with the smaller steps which may give you instant results
For example, if you will switch from writing your information about field and crop scouting from paper to your smartphone, it will give instant positive results. In other words, you will be able to get access to your information anywhere and share it with any member of your team. However, if you have it only on paper, then you must have at least a copy machine.
Find consultants but also read more about the chosen topic of smart farming
Indeed, it’s not an easy task – to find a trusted agritech advisor. Moreover, if you don’t feel too knowledgeable about farming innovations and use a smartphone only for private reasons. There is a separate topic how to find a good consultant in smart farming, however, three of the most important aspects for this are:
– ask as many details as possible. Low-qualified people cannot answer on too practical and clarifying questions about farming or specific crops;
– speak in numbers, brands and geography. Pay attention to price tags, mentioned by your agritech consultant, duration of the projects and location. Ask about his favourite brands to work with and why they are the most preferable. Even if you don’t understand clearly the topic, these questions will help you to gasp it.
– check the reputation of the agritech company. You can ask your network of farmers and agronomists about the feedback. Check different ratings and niche listings for agriculture or particular crops. Or just go to Google and put the name of the company in search. Don’t stop on the first results, go to the second or third page and you will get more insights about your agriculture advisors. Extra tip: if you put quotation marks around the name of a company then you will get even more specific results. For example, in our case “Petiole Pro” will give you only the most relevant links about our company.
Where to start to use a smartphone in agriculture?
You can start with any task either in farm management, crop monitoring or livestock care. The easiest way how to do this – go to the play store and find a mobile application. Some of the agritech applications are free; other are paid or use subscription model. Anyway, the easiness of the first step makes this experience quite easy to get.
For example, if you are a farmer who grow strawberries in greenhouse, then you need to forecast your future yield. It is important in order to get appropriate amount of labour force who will help you in harvest time. For this case, you can get a mobile application, which instantly calculates the number of flowers on your strawberry plants. With regular monitoring it can give you a forecast with around 90% of accuracy.
What is the most important equipment to buy for smart farming?
Firstly, you need to have a smartphone in agriculture production. This is the basic level for you and you can even stop for some time. Then you need to check available mobile applications for farming and for specific crops. Browse them and find the most useful. Even more – you can ask your colleagues about their preferences and favourite mobile applications for agriculture. This will help you to get a direction what to do next.
If you have already got your smartphone for farming then it is required to get required accessories. For example, if you plan to measure leaf area index (or ground coverage) then you must have calibration pad for camera. In a case, when you need to know chlorophyll content in a leaf, you must have a colour calibration pad. Finally, if you want to identify pests and diseases for your IPM, then magnification lenses is your must-have thing.
Probably, you have also heard about sensors in agriculture or agricultural drones. You can think about buying this equipment as well but on later stage of your farm redevelopment.
To get maximum benefits from using IoT (such as sensors) and drones in field or at the farm you must have advanced level of user experience in smart agriculture.
Otherwise, you need to pay substantial fee to companies. Then they will take care about this type of smart farming technologies. However, this may be not economically reasonable for your agriculture business now.