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Lodi growers go digital

Local farmers turning to smartphone, tablet apps to keep track of tasks

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Posted: Saturday, February 23, 2013 12:00 am

When Brandon Sywassink arrives at a vineyard and hops out of his truck, the first tool he reaches for isn't a pair of pruning shears or work gloves. Sywassink boots up his iPad and opens an app called LandView to see what tasks are on the list for this particular plot of land. This time of year, that might include mowing between each row, tying up vines or repairing wires.

"If we need to clean up the field, get some vines off the ground, I'll send a message to our guys that we need to clean up," he said. Sywassink uses the app for communication within Acampo Ag Service, the company where he works, and to track data about each field.

The stereotypical farmer is traditional, independent and not someone you might picture with a smartphone in hand while driving a tractor. But more and more Lodi-area growers are embracing the role of mobile apps in getting their jobs done more quickly. From harvest calendars to fertilizer calculators to the ability to control the on/off switch of an irrigation pipeline, those in the agriculture industry are finding new ways to put 21st century technology to work.

As a first-generation grower, Sywassink doesn't have technology-free farming habits to transition away from.

"I don't know any other way. I wasn't 12 years old with a shovel and a four-wheeler when I started. I got into this when I was 18 or 19" in the late 1990s, he said.

Having field data, calculators, maps and Internet access out in the field means growers can take fewer trips back to the office to see a printout, and fewer calls to coworkers when a quick message or email will suffice.

"I'm able to cover more ground with less workers to manage," Sywassink said. "It's one less thing to worry about because I know the guys can take care of themselves and answer their own questions."

Another advantage to being wirelessly "plugged in" while in the field is GPS capability. Sywassink will often circle the perimeter of a field with a GPS app to determine the exact acreage. That allows Acampo Ag Service to charge customers for the amount of land they actually have, not the estimate they think is out there, when harvesting or spraying pesticides and fertilizers.

Larry Whitted is an agricultural pest control adviser who swears by an app called Agrian.

Whitted can pull up last season's field information for a particular grower, or the farmer's most recent soil sample results, and prescribe what pesticides to use, how much and how to apply them.

"As you enter the recommendation, it checks what you're doing against the label. It won't let you make a mistake by recommending the wrong product or the wrong dose," he said.

Since the recommendation is electronic, it's simple to send pesticide records to the San Joaquin County Agricultural Center for monthly reports or to search in the archives for last season's records. Fifteen years ago, each recommendation and report was completed and turned in by hand.

Whitted is shocked that doctors and nurses don't use similar technology to send prescriptions to patients and pharmacies.

"This reduces our chance of making errors. It does all of these things that doctors are not doing. There is no possibility to make a mistake from bad handwriting," he said.

Grapegrower Aaron Lange of LangeTwins Winery is no stranger to technology on the move, but prefers to use his all-purpose smartphone instead of a tablet.

Top on his list is a weather program created by the Lodi Winegrape Commission. Users can set alarms to alert them when temperatures fall or rise past a certain degree. If more than a quarter-inch of rainfall hits and you need to do something about it, the service will let you know. The program syncs up with the 16 weather stations in the Lodi Appellation.

Another big help is having all that digital storage space on one's phone while out in the field. Lange uses his smartphone to store maps, row counts and even the yield from last year's harvest.

"Having information from your personal operation available in front of you is great for on-the-fly calculations," he said. "It's been such an evolution from a decade ago. As technology gets better, people are always finding new ways to use it."

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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1 comment:

  • Doug Chaney posted at 12:46 pm on Sun, Feb 24, 2013.

    advocate Posts: 499

    Wow, farmers that need a computer program to remind them to water their crops or prune their vines? My long time related farmer generation of North Dakota, most of them resting in peace, since coming to America in the early 1900's and beginning their quest for farming, are rolling over in their graves with laughter. Many of the local area "farmers" in this area are given the nice climate, soil and water factor to grow some of the best crops in the country and for that they should be thankful. My forebears couldn't grow much of anything but sugar beets, wheat or alfalfa in this desolate country and many chose to be cattle or chicken farmers. They didn't get subsidies or paid not to grow certain crops nor any kind of government welfare or help of any kind in those days. Nor the help of pesticides, herbicides, sulfur or chemicals of any kind unless they were contained in the water they paid dearly to pump from the ground. Droughts produced no extra irrigation water to sustain their crop growth from some government or private entity that controlled the water usage in times of drought. The government and especially local water districts take care of the water rationing today with some farmers buying the water on the cheap and selling it for a huge profit to those who aren't so lucky to be allocated the same share the larger, well connected farmers are given. Many of these small water districts are led by "farmers" that know absolutely nothing about water except that the more they are allocated, the better the crop yield and the surplus can be sold for a very generous profit. These boards and their directors seem to usually be made up of a group of yes men who are the larger players and acreage owners in their district and operate with very little or no oversight at all. I'll cite the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District as being one of these long time dysfunctional water boards in a small corner of north Lodi. This small district, and their board director, the local newspaper owner who seemed to have a strong with the Lodi city council, was granted a 200K stipend for years from the Lodi taxpayers, much of which was never accounted for due to either sloppy record or bookkeeping, contracts for maintenance and pump work, etc, were just given to the same two or three people and no records of the work ever being performed even though they were paid by the district and director. They never have been accountable for all those missing funds all those years and even the grand jury was too protective, I'm guessing because that the foreman of the grand jury was one of the Lodi good old boys and a retired police officer and well connected with the director and didn't want to seem to jeopardize him with the embarrassment of possibly a full investigation into the financial troubles of this district. And maybe criminal charges against some of those who comprised the board and its director all those years, and including some other prominent names in agriculture in this district, some who owned large acreage and financially successful which could have been due to the fact that the finances being an absolute mess and lack of a thorough investigation into who was responsible for these missing funds. It's refreshing to see a local farmer featured in this article rather than the well connected and publicized wine grape growers that control the real destinies of those who make waves that could upset the applecart. Mr. Pilkington was one of those this well connected group tried so desperately to shut up, they finally succeeded but not until some of the ugly practices of this water district were made known by this board and director to the grand jury and general public. Just another saga in the life of the good old boys regime in Lodi, CA.

     

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