Arable iPhone apps put to the test

A number of apps aimed specifically at arable growers have been launched in the last few weeks, effectively putting crop management tools and up-to-date market information in their pockets.



Designed specifically to be downloaded on iPhones and other smartphones, the apps are set to gain momentum among tech-savvy farmers.


To mark their launch, Crops has asked five iPhone-owning growers to trial five apps and rate them in terms of their usability and usefulness, on a scale of 0-5, with 5 being most useable/useful.


The apps under review can calculate seed rates, assess the green area index of cereal and oilseed rape crops, calculate tank-mixes for sprayers and offer the latest market information on grain prices.



 


BASF/FW GAI oilseed rape


iPhone_basf


Make instant assessments of green area index of oilseed rape crops in the field, and shape fertiliser and growth regulator plans. (£1.79)



Useability 4.4


The app is quick and easy to use, allowing frequent assessments of GAI across fields giving near instant results, say our testers. But they find that inputting the county you are in for every calculation is annoying.


“You constantly need to scroll down to the bottom for Worcestershire, which is frustrating,” says Jake. And Kit asks: “Why can’t it hold the previous answer?”


Usefulness 3.3


The app can help with canopy management decisions to maximise yield and prevent lodging. Although created by BASF, it could be used with growth regulatory products from other companies. The results can also help you fine tune your nitrogen fertiliser planning.


Jake says: “It’s very useful and mixes in well in SOYLSense variable rate N.” Neil says it is a “great app, worth every penny”, but questions if it could be free. But James cannot see much value in the app. “If you have to take photographs to determine what to do with your crops, then I’d say that you don’t really know what you’re looking at.”



Gleadell grain prices app


iPhone_gleadallIt displays the latest market information on crops and prices. In addition, there are Gleadell’s wheat, rapeseed, fertiliser and seed market reports. (Free)


Useability 3.8


Overall, the Gleadell app is easy to use, but it can take a while to load, say our testers. Jake says: “It’s fairly easy to use, although £ and $ signs would be good when talking prices.” Neil says the app froze once while he was using it. “I had to delete it and then download it again – no problems since and I’m glad it’s free of charge.” The app crashed twice during testing for Kit, but it rebooted each time.


Usefulness 4


“This is surely the first of many apps with grain pricing at its core,” says Kit. He particularly likes the mix of contact details, news and market reports. “Adding a bookmark of the HGCA pricing website to your home screen also gives you access to prices, but this app gives you something extra by giving you all of the major exchanges,” he says.


Neil reckons more detailed information is available through websites such as Euronext and HGCA, but says this app offers a faster way of keeping an eye on what’s happening in the markets while you are on the move or away from office.


James says the app is excellent. “You can use it and speak straight to your trader.”



BASF Canopy Assessment Tool


iPhone_canopyThe app helps growers assess the green area index (GAI) of their wheat crops at the crucial growth stage 30/31. Armed with the GAI assessment, they can tailor a plant growth regulator programme, calculate nitrogen requirements and assess crop lodging risk. (£1.79)


Useability 4.3


This app is quick and easy to use, say our testers. Most agree it appears to calculate GAI accurately under a range of light and crop conditions. “You could carry out multiple tests whenever you’re walking across a field and have a phone with you,” Neil says.


Usefulness 3.1


The app is biased towards BASF products, but your agronomist can easily use it to create an equivalent plant growth regulator plan using alternative products. It also helps you fine tune nitrogen fertiliser plans. Our testers are infuriated by having to input county name for every calculation. More growth stage options would mean you could use it earlier in the season to calculate how GAI is progressing, Jake says.


Overall, our testers agree it is worth the money. “I’m happy to pay the £1.79 download fee,” Neil says. “The equivalent cost would only buy me diesel to get my Defender seven miles down the road, whereas this app is helping me check that we’re getting the very best out of 190ha of wheat.”



DuPont TankMix calculator


iPhone_dupontThe app provides basic calculations for the amount of product and water needed per tank or area. (Free)


Useability 3


The app is fairly quick and easy to use, say most of our testers, who like the way it allows you to work in different units, such as gallons, hectares and acres. But Kit is not impressed. “It’s fiddly and because it has to have global appeal, it contains units that I’m never likely to use, although it does hold choices once selected,” he says.


Usefulness 2


The app does nothing that a standard calculator cannot do, Neil and James point out. “You might as well just use a calculator – it really is a gimmick,” adds James.


But Kit says it’s good for calculating complex tank-mixes. “I no longer spray every day, but if I did, this app would be very useful, particularly working out quantities for complex tank mixes.” Ed says the app is useful, but he would not use it often. Jake is less impressed, however, pointing out that information on tank-mix rates already comes out on the spray recommendation.








RAGT seed rate calculator


iPhone_RAGTThe app helps you calculate sowing rates for cereal crops in the field. It automatically calculates seed rates in seeds/sq m, kg/ha and kg/acre. (Free)


Useability 4.4


The RAGT app stands out for its ease of use, say our testers, especially Kit, who is particularly impressed. “The RAGT seed rate calculator is the star of the farming apps,” he says. “This simple app could be used by anyone to work out a seed rate. Just pop in the data and away it goes. I’ll use it regularly.”


Usefulness 3.5


Neil says the app is useful for checking that your seed rates are exactly where they should be. Jake would use it most years, especially in the busy autumn period. “It’s very useful while you are in the field or on the move, especially in difficult seed-bed years,” he says. James says the app is only going to be useful at drilling times, but because a lot of his seed is farm-saved, he wouldn’t use it regularly.








Our test panel: Jake Freestone, farm manager, Overbury Farms, Gloucestershire; Christopher (Kit) Papworth, joint farm manager of family farm, LF Papworth, Lodge Farm, Norfolk; Neil Saunders, farm manager, Hamilton Farm, Hampshire; James Peck, managing director, PX Farms, Cambridgeshire; Ed White, farm machinery specialist on family farm, Clanville Manor, Somerset. 

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