15 March 2002

In-field chem data to hand

By Tom Allen-Stevens

A BETTER way for agronomists and BASIS-trained farmers to keep abreast of product developments is promised with the launch of a new service from Aventis Crop Science.

The companys entire catalogue of product manuals is now available to download on to a PDA (portable digital assistant) hand-held computer. The files, which can be downloaded from the Aventis web-site, will be updated as soon as any changes to the product data are made, says the company.

"Its an additional service we have introduced for agronomists and advisers to help reduce the physical burden of carrying the manuals around," says Aventis communications manager Robert Masters.

"As an agronomist, I used to carry a box-load and as soon as you get them they are out of date. The PDA versions are with you in the field, they are never defunct and they are distributed free."

IT manager Richard Bardsley says the manuals can be downloaded to either a Palm OS PDA, Microsoft Pocket PC version or a Psion. A suitable reader is automatically downloaded at the same time.

"Pocket PC versions use Microsoft Reader, which is normally already installed. Psions and Palms use the Mobi reader, which is widely used and trusted."

All the information from the manual is contained in the electronic files – environmental notes, LERAPs, COSH&#42 information, advice on dose rates, target species and tank-mix guidance. Hyperlinks are included to help users find the information quickly.

The manuals can be downloaded direct from the Aventis web-site, where news on updates will also be posted.

Mr Bardsley assures users the files are quite small – just 45kb each – so wont take long to download. "They do not take up too much space on the PDA, so you can quite easily hold all the manuals you need."

It is a big step forward, believes southern-based Agrovista agronomist Andrew Cowan. "To have the ability to access all that info from the middle of the field would be great.

"They send out the manuals on CD-ROM, but laptops are a pain to use on farm and I do not like to leave mine in the car. These hand-held computers just sit in your top pocket."

PDAs have found favour with many advisers since the introduction of pocket versions of desktop crop recording software, such as Farmades PDM and Muddy Boots Pocket Cropwalker.

Muddy Boots also has Pocket Procheck – a database containing information on 2800 pesticides – while Farmades similar Sentinel is just desktop bound.

Farmades Peter Henley says his customers want electronic product manuals "more than anything else", but believes one standard format would help more than offering portable versions.

"Why cant manufacturers standardise? We receive the information in Word files, PDFs and HTML. They should all go for the easy option – HTML," he says. &#42

In the hand… This pocket computer can carry all the agchem data Aventis used to supply in manuals, with regular updates, says ITmanager Richard Bardsley.