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Scouting App Review

For 2017 InfoAG  I was challenged to review the available mobile scouting apps. While I have been reviewing ag apps since the summer of 2013 https://osunpk.com/2013/07/30/agriculture-app-for-the-ipad-and-iphone/ , I had yet try to tackle a group as complex as scouting apps.My first challenge was to locate all relevant apps. My search began using social media and the search terms Crop Scouting, Field Scouting, Ag Scouting, and Farm Scouting for both iPhone and iPad apps. After a week-long hunt I had found around 30 apps, although I am sure I missed a few.  As most of these app require payment, I assumed most would have a 30 day free-trial period. So towards the end of June, about a week out from the meetings, I started trying to gain access.  As I did this I kept records in an excel file on how the process was going. I found that with nine apps I had immediate access via the app, for seven apps I was able to request a demonstration, and for another six I used the contact us option and requested a demo via that method.  By Friday, July 21st, I had access to 17, my presentation was on Wednesday the 26th.  I should note that a few more demos were provided after the presentation, but are not included in this review.

List of all apps downloaded for the review.

After I gained access I went into iTunes and Google play to determine where they could be found.

Mobile devices applications are available for.

During the signup and trial phase most apps offered/suggested/preferred that I went through training for supervised demonstration of their applications.  I chose to pass on the training.  The first reason was simply due to time constraints, as my presentation data was approaching rapidly by this point.  More importantly, I wanted this review to be useful to the people I know that are interested in these apps, and I also know that many of these people are just the type to try something without instructions, you know who you are!  So my observations are based entirely on how well I was able to intuitively use the applications.  There is no question if I had gone through the training I would have picked up on several items I likely missed.  Also it should be noted many of the demo versions I had access to had limited functions.

Evaluation of the apps took place in the field, office, and home. Near the end of the project I spent many hours reviewing notes and going back and forth between the mobile and web based versions.

Home work space. Laptop for web applications, iPad mini for app review, iPhone and notebook for in-field notes.

As I was working through each of the apps, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a private crop scout, much like many of my friends are.  This is an important point to consider because as I dug deeper into the applications I came to realize that many of these apps were developed with larger consulting firms in mind.  The next table has some important ramifications depending upon the user. Almost every application had a downloadable software or web-based form utilized for operation management. Some of the apps that fell into the category of “Needed to Perform” are the apps which a field boundary or scouting trip could not be initiated from the mobile device.

It is those applications that needed a manager to set fields and/or assign task which I deemed where meant for larger consulting groups, as this strategy would not be efficient for a one or two person operation. These applications did have some impressive functions allowing managers to follow scouts progress and direct operations near real time.

If a web or desktop based program was needed to direct actions I categorized the application as best fit for larger consulting groups.

One of the first tasks I wanted to review was the creation of field boundaries.  From the view point of a private consultant, I put an emphasis on those apps which could draw field boundaries from the mobile device.  The use of CLUs (common land units) was an interesting way to load boundaries, more on that in a bit. Most applications that utilized CLUs did so in the desktop program, however several apps also had the option within the mobile device.  A few of the desktop apps also allowed the import of shape files to set field boundaries, it was the only option in Field X.

This table shows which mobile applications can apply field boundaries from the device, which applications utilize CLUs (common land units) and shape files.

Drawing field boundaries was the one area that some apps really separated themselves in terms of functionality. For me, the mobile device field boundary winner was the AgDNA app.  Their use of the cross-hair with pin drop at the top of the screen increased the accuracy of the pin set.  Often, when dropping pins or moving the pins in other apps, the placement would be off due to poor finger to eye coordination.  Sirrus and Agrian tied for 2nd, and both provided a zoom option for the pin after placement. AgriSiteIPM provided a nice function where the application dropped an additional pin between any two that I placed. I found this to help speed up the task and allowed me to make some refinements a bit quicker.  All other applications were equal.

AgDNA field boundary draw tool.

Sirrus Field boundary draw tool.

Agrian Field boundary draw tool.

AgriSiteIPM Field boundary draw tool.

Now back to the CLU conversation. With CLUs the application draws the boundaries for you.  I must say that, when it works properly, it is a very nice function. Below are two examples of fields I used CLUs to define field boundaries.

Field boundary building utilizing common land units (CLUs). Often this was a very nice feature.

However CLUs did not consistently identify the proper fields. In the examples below, the L field on the right is actually two separate fields with a dirt road between them, the example on the right only identified the grass waterway and left the field unselected. The saving grace is that all of the apps with CLU option also had the draw option, so if the CLU did not work I could just draw it in manually.  So in the long run, no harm no foul.

Field boundary building utilizing common land units (CLUs). Just as often this feature did not work for the fields I wanted.

The next task I evaluated was entering crop/field information, such as crop type, variety/hybrid, planting date, fertilizer, and pesticide applications. My preference was that this task could be accomplished from the mobile device. As it turned out many of the applications which would function better for a larger organization did not allow for this information to be entered via the mobile device. Also, as a soil scientist, I was bummed by the lack of apps with the ability to bring in SURGO data, and even more let down that the majority of the desktop versions did not utilize this data layer. So, with that being said, a big props to FarmLogs for being the only mobile app with the capability of downloading SURGO data layers. Climate had an interesting “soils” portion of the app, where it provided a table listing predominate soil texture, percent organic matter, soil pH and CEC.  A note on the Climate soils data, while the soil texture, OM, and CEC are not far off the average, I felt that the pH was off by a bit. This is not unexpected however as, of all the reported variables, pH is the most impacted by human activities.

This table list the applications which the crop information (crop type, variety/hybrid, population and planting date. The table also list the applications which had access to SURGO soil type data.

 

FarmLogs brought SURGO data directly into the application.

 

Climate provided fields dominate soil texture, estimated OM%, pH and EC.

Below is a summation of the weather functions of mobile and desktop applications. I categorized the data as Historical (multi-year average), Past (either calendar or growing period weather), Current (today’s temp and wind), and Forecast (3-10 day forecast on either a daily or hourly basis).  From the consultants viewpoint if I am out in a field trying to determine if I should recommend a nutrient or pesticide application weather is a BIG part of that decision process.  So having the current weather and forecast in hand when I have to make that call is a great tool.  The past/historical data is something I really enjoyed looking at, and could spend hours doing, its impact on management decision is not as critical as forecast, but is still a tool I appreciated. With that, Climate and Sirrus were the only mobile apps with a forecast function while Farm Logs had nice past data functionality.

This table shows the weather and forecast features on the mobile and desktop applications.

 

Sirrus shows current weather on the fields home screen with the option to look at hourly and 10 day forecast along with historical precip data.

Climate provides current weather, hourly and 6 day forecast along with seasonal weather data based upon field planting date.

FarmLogs scouting app graphed the rainfall and GDD heat unit accumulation over the growing period

Within the Scouting Section I was looking for in field functionality of collecting information and sharing. As expected, all apps provided the ability to drop pins via GPS and add notes and images. Some apps also allowed the user to select the location to drop pins.  I liked the ability to add stand counts and a few applications actually allowed the users to collect multiple sampling points and provide an average.  This is a nice function that promotes proper sampling techniques. Both Agrian and Sirrus provide directed sampling functions, I specifically liked being able to set up a grid on site and sample immediately. From the aspect of a private consultant, I felt it would be extremely important to be able to share scouting reports and recommendations from the application in-field. Some of these were very simplistic emails others send PDFs.

This list shows the scouting functions of the applications reviewed.

As far as just “cleanness” and functionality of scouting goes, I personally really liked the scouting layout provided by OpenScout. I also gave good marks to AgraScout and Agrian for their user friendly interfaces.

The Open Scout layout during scouting was quite clean.

Personally I am a big fan of having pictures of the pest.  Aker Scouts function of having images with their pick list was nice and I could see it really coming in handy. Better yet, when the pest was selected a detailed description was presented. AgraScout also had a nice function that when a pest was selected from the picklist an image of the pest would pop up. Unfortunately, at the time of testing this app had a bug and in the insect picklist the wrong insect often came up.

Aker Scout had images with each of its pest options.

First look at the ScoutPro I loved its function of a step wise pest selection tool to get too my problem. That said, after a few times it wore me out. I did not need this process to identify pigweed and johnsongrass, and felt it was forcing me to make more clicks than necessary.

Scout Pro takes users through a ID tool to help select proper pest.

The final function hearkens back to my precision ag background. Four of the applications provided the opportunity to build management zones, and from what I could determine from my versions, three of the applications could build and export shapefiles for application. With the image arms race so active right now, I also looked at which applications included satellite imagery. The five listed below are the ones that actively promote the purchase of imagery within the mobile or desktop applications.

This table list the applications with can create management zones, send VRT files, and have access to satellite imagery.

The following are comments taken directly from my observations. I have left all notes in this, and in some cases you can see where I could not find a function, then later made a note that it was found.

  • Advantage Acre
    • Field Select, Auto via image or drop points.
    • Nice desktop weather.
    • In-field crop info limited.
    • Like mobile app scouting functionality
  • AgDNA
    • Trying to set up activity, app shut down
    • Cant set up activity without machinery
    • Took a while to set up boundaries on app, figured out later.
    • List incomplete, no Crabgrass
    • No search items (weeds/pest)
    • Has a way to document impassable spots
    • Recording software. Does a great job of recording activities.
  • AgraScout
    • Can only add crop and planting date
    • Looks like you can schedule scouting from desktop
    • Dropping pins not that precise.
    • If adding in field, cannot scout immediately as it needs assignment.
    • Don’t save unless done, locks out event
    • Touch issues with corn ear worm (did not bring up ear worm)
    • Thinks a lot
    • I like the image showing up after the select
    • Agronomic Manager App, not one would suggest for private consultant.
  • Agrian
    • Email notes on single pin,
    • does not look like whole scouting trip.
    • emails nice PDF
    • Finding SURGO Not Easy
    • Label available.
    • CCA Ready
  • AgriSite IPM
    • Added fields easily,
    • Trouble saving notes Growth Stage was blank, image loading errors.
    • Did not always save notes
    • Not very intuitive
    • Option list was very short.
    • Not a fan of the annotations noting method.
    • Has Temp and Wind speed on screen
  • AkerScout
    • Seems like a good Manager/agronomist app.
    • But not allow on the go field set up is a challenge.
  • Farm Dog Scout
    • Drops pins, not sure about after fact edit.
    • While entering field data if you hit outside of box, you lose.
    • Easily adds fields on site
    • Has insect and disease list, no weeds.
  • Farm Logs
    • In App Auto field select.
    • Not easy to edit.
    • Shows soil type up front when adding field
    • Can do from Ipad hooked to internet.
    • Really like the image with item search Send Scout via web
    • Financial Threat interesting
  • Enicira
    • Send notes
    • Crazy long load time in web.
  • Farm Dog Scout
    • Drops pins, not sure about after fact edit.
    • While entering field data if you hit outside of box, you lose.
    • Easily adds fields on site
    • Has insect and disease list, no weeds.
  • Farm Logs
    • In App Auto field select.
    • Not easy to edit.
    • Shows soil type up front when adding field
    • Really nice data trends for rainfall and GDD
  • Farm Pad-Tap Logic
    • Don’t typically have demos, offered 1 few week then charge card.
    • Did offer to provide a developers demo
    • A bit clunky in app and Desktop but good functionality.
  • FieldView
    • Auto Selects boundaries, can not easily edit lines.
    • In app adding Nitrogen Application cannot see N source, wont let save
  • Field X
    • Full Field Note taking,
    • Geo Note a point reference app in beta.
    • Manager Picklist, Extremely Extensive list.
    • But Have to create pick list.
  • OpenScout
    • Needs internet to add from location.
    • Very nice scouting function
    • Nice infield use.
  • AgWorld Scout
    • 30 day fre trial.
    • satellite view in app moves fast
    • Desktop drops a pin, but think it needs shapefile.
    • barcode scan
    • Needs attributes set up by manager.
  • Scout Pro
    • Short period
    • Love the ID, if I don’t know what I have,
    • Don’t like going through steps to Get to something I know.
    • Cant Select from Library
  • Sirrus
    • Has a buddy app, that the producer can use to see fields.
    • Labels available
    • Like the grid soil sample summary on field view
    • Performs well for what I would expect a consultant to need,
    • would work in a larger comp also.
    • CCA ready.
    • Sends PDF via email.

My final take home from this task was that I don’t want to have to do this again.  It was a wonderful challenge that took a lot of time and energy, and I still only looked at 50% of the available applications.  My comments to those looking for an app, reach out and try as many as possible. Every app has its own fit and there is no one size fits all.  If you find one or two you like TAKE THE TRAINING, I know I missed aspects of many of these applications, but I was testing the intuitive nature of the programs.  My comments to application developers, don’t forget the private consultant. I really don’t feel like many of the applications I tested had the independent consultant in mind. Instead they are targeting large groups, and this is understandable from a marketing stand point.  Consider adding a function that, when a scout leaves the field, a note is sent to the producer notifying them that the field has been checked.  I can see this being a great value added product, allowing the producer to immediately know that their scout is taking care of them.

 


4 Comments

  1. kinderjw says:

    I am looking for an app that would help me when I scout. I’ve not found an ideal app yet. I’m going to try some new ones now based on your review. Thank for the heavy lift!

    • osunpk says:

      You are wanting the golden goose. Identify the most important task and go from there. Also have in mind how much value it could bring you and what your willing to pay.

      • kinderjw says:

        One cost is my time/labor to get the app set up on the farm. Many I’ve tried work well on a desk top but the mobile app is bad or the opposite is true. Yes, I’m looking for the perfect mate, until then speed dating.

  2. Craig Koehn says:

    Crop Quest works with SST and Sirrus. We are creating a web based reporting program that will create field reports for Sirrus. It will be Paramount Reporting. It will be available very soon. Many of the Sirrus functions are from suggestion from Crop Quest agronomist.

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