As a progressive livestock farmer, you care deeply about your pasture. You want to manage it well.
And you are looking for ways to do this digitally, maybe with a farm app?
First of all, I want to congratulate you. Just by deciding to measure your pasture and doing it digitally, you are way ahead in the game, compared to most other livestock farmers.
Because let's face it, you cannot really manage your pasture without tracking key measurements over time. And using paper-based tools to do this is a headache.
In this article, I want to tell you all about the different apps you can use to make your job easier. And help you find the right one for you.
Why was the farm app built?
There are several apps in the market today, both free as well as paid apps.
So how do you select an app that is right for you?
You begin by asking what an app was built for. Let me explain.
Generic apps such as Excel, Filemaker and MS Access were built to help anyone store and analyse data. In other words, they were made for broad usage scenarios, to help accountants, HR professionals, teachers and farmers.
The advantage of using generic apps is that you might already have them on your computer and might even know how to use one.
However, this also comes with a few disadvantages. A generic app is not built specifically to help you with pasture data. And because of this, it might not have the features you need.
In a farm app, you select exactly what your needs are and the developer only builds the features needed to help you. The result? A farm app is faster, easier to use and will cost less money than an off-the-shelf spreadsheet or generic app.
That is of course if the app developers are responsive to farmer feedback!
This brings us back to why an app was built in the first place. Each farm app has its own purpose for existing in this world. They all vary depending on who created them, their philosophy and how they solve pain points when managing livestock and pastures.
But in essence, there are a few primary reasons for building these apps that we'll continue to explore below.
Features you find in farming apps
Features we look for in agricultural apps
- Farm management decision support tool
- Satellite imaging with innovative ways
- PDF reports and local information
- Digital record-keeping to farm smarter
- Instant information and the latest news
- Digital tools making field data accessible
- Connects farmers with other users
For instance, generic tools cannot help you plan your rotational grazing schedules in a straightforward manner, at least without you customising it enough to suit your needs.
They simply don't focus on specialising, say, as a grazing calculator.
Another significant disadvantage is that using a generic app might cost you a lot more in terms of time and effort when compared to what you can achieve using pasture specific apps.
We're looking for tools specific to the agricultural industry, after all!
These agricultural apps must help in your farm management, otherwise, they are a waste of time in your business. Let's keep this the focus when trolling through the many mobile apps and new apps being published.
But, if you have simple needs, you would be able to use the generic apps and create customised templates to help you store and analyse your pasture data. However, this might not be enough.
In this case, you might be better off using specific apps that were built to help you store and analyse your pasture data.
What can a pasture app help you do?
Among pasture specific apps, there are several differences. To choose the app best suited for your needs, you need to understand what each app can help you do.
For example, can it:
- Help you understand weather conditions
- Give solid support to your farming decisions
- Tap into Google Earth or better still analytical satellite imagery
- Readily accept support issues and allow you to receive the support you need
- Upload observation photos, scout crops, ID weeds, and report on pest pressures
- Be as competitive as your favourite farm equipment and farm machinery
Storing and analysing your pasture measurement data
All pasture specific apps will help you enter and store your pasture measurement data and map it to specific paddocks or locations on your farm. Some will do this seamlessly, while others might need you to do a few extra steps.
However, this is very important because it can help you analyse patterns over time and help you take better overall pasture management decisions.
This is tremendously useful. It will also save you a lot of time when compared to the generic apps, especially, given the fact that you want to measure your pasture at least once a week.
If this alone is your need, then you are probably better off choosing between Grazing Wedge, Pasture Coach, Agrinet Grass, and Pasture.io’s free plan.
Getting your pasture measurement data
However, a big problem for most farmers like you is that you don’t have half a day, every week to get your pasture measurement data. Notably, in peak calving season, when you need accurate pasture data the most.
This is where advancements in technology come into play. Today, you can choose from a range of options that will also help you get pasture measurement data, as well as to analyse the data.
Some of them will need you to invest in costly hardware, such as pasture meters and electronic motes.
In contrast, other service providers such as LIC Space and Pasture.io use more advanced technology to do this without needing any hardware investments or manual effort.
How can an agricultural app help with feeding livestock?
Now, there is no one-stop shop currently available with farming applications.
However, you should be able to easily record feed allocation, understand your feed values, determine nutritional requirements, monitor livestock equipment, stream market data such as grain prices and so on.
Most farmers are used to pulling their mobile devices out of their pockets and opening their favourite mobile app. This might be to check local news, one of the many weather apps, or to perform some field scouting while out and about.
The point is, that regardless of what many farmers are trying to achieve, you too should be able to access a mobile app that assists in feeding your animals.
Our very own app, Pasture.io has a core focus on pasture measurement and grazing management where we mix managing pastures with feeding animals.
Our app is built around the core premise to provide farmers with one app for enhancing both animal and pasture performance. Check it out, it just might be the tool you're looking for.
Finding your right grazing app
Things quickly become apparent, when we map all the grazing apps against 1) why the app was built and 2) what it can help you do. Depending on your needs, you can choose the right app for your needs.
Similar to researching and choosing agricultural machinery, or scanning the catalogue for farm equipment, looking for a mobile app is no different.
They come in many shapes, sizes and flavours.
This doesn't make things easy for you to decide. But, what a farmer sees is important and we can help with this understanding.
What are the fundamentals when researching agriculture apps?
Here is a set of questions to answer before looking at some of the apps available:
- What problem am I trying to solve?
- What information do I need?
- In what form should this data be presented?
- How often will I enter it into my app?
- Do I have the time, money and skillset to invest in hardware or software monitoring devices that can help me gather this information automatically?
And so on...
Do you see how these basic fundamentals present themselves as a lot of questions to ask first?
If not, let's look at it from a slightly different approach.
Let us consider your everyday life for a moment. You probably have multiple applications on your mobile device that you simply open for specific tasks every day.
For example, one application might be the weather app underground (a free weather app), another might be a games app, such as Candy Crush.
You also might have multiple applications that you use for more specific tasks that occur only once or twice per month - or less.
For example, your alarm clock application, the calendar and so on.
Some of these agriculture apps might come with hardware to make them even better: like your coffee machine!
It has buttons and switches to press to make you a great cup of coffee at the right temperature and strength; depending on your needs. You don't need to know how it actually works under the hood. You just need to know how it can help you achieve what you're trying to do.
Farming is no different the way you use an alarm for waking up in the morning is a step you take every day. This would be like an app that helps achieve your daily agricultural tasks - it's just part of what you do and who you are as a farmer.
Now, to get back to the topic at hand: choosing mobile apps for farming!
We will also consider more important angles when researching and choosing an application for your daily use.
These angles can be summarized by looking at the following questions.
- Which are the different companies with farming apps?
- Which companies offer what and is it what I need?
- Which platforms listen to farmer feedback that I can give in just a few clicks?
- Which ag apps actually help your farm management as business partners?
- Which applications import local information automatically and encourage me to farm?
- Do any of the services offer a free app and do they work on mobile devices?
- Which programmes offer extension agents, customer success or account managers?
The actual costs of using (or not using) farming apps
It might be tempting to pick the apps that have the lowest cost. Stop. You might be taking the wrong decision if you look at just the monetary cost of using an app.
Because, when we talk about the monetary cost of measuring your pasture, it is easy to only think about how much money you might spend to use a grazing app.
However, in reality, in addition to this usage cost, there are also other associated labour, maintenance, and opportunity costs involved.
To take a more informed decision, you also need to take into account these costs.
For instance, Excel might be free, but it will cost you a lot in terms of your time and effort, every time you want to use it to analyse your pasture data.
Similarly, you may spend around 100 euros a year to use a pasture specific app such as Agrinet Grass.
However, this can save you a lot more in terms of your time and effort, especially when it comes to analysing your data and creating grazing plans based on your data.
On the other hand, you could invest around 1,000 dollars a year to use a satellite-based service such as Pasture.io to get accurate pasture data every few days, on your smartphone, automatically.
This will save you a lot more in terms of your time, effort and opportunity costs. Farmers using this service have seen up to a 40x return on investment.
When seen in this light, it quickly becomes apparent that satellite-based pasture specific apps such as LIC Space and Pasture.io offer several advantages.
Such as accurate data, automatic measurements, and pasture analysis. You can also read a detailed comparison of both these services here.
I trust that this was useful to you. If you have any further questions for me, do write them as a comment below. I will answer them personally.
The main message I want to get across in this article is that you can get on and farm with farming apps such as Pasture.io's service where standardized field data becomes your secret weapon to greater farm profit.
I will see you again with another useful article, until then.
- The Dedicated Team of Pasture.io, 2020-02-05