Farming with a smartphone: Mobile technology has agricultural applications

Farm Forum

After calling Mother Nature for more than a year and a half to end the drought, area farmers are trying a different option: their cell phones.

The farmer who’s tired of waiting for rain can now water his field from a smartphone. That’s the type of technology GPS Services in Adams now distributes to farmers. The millenniums-old concept of irrigation has gone wireless.

Owner Lynn Lagerstedt considered offering new irrigation pivot units through his business for more than a year. Just a couple months ago, he and his employees decided the time was right. Demand for irrigation systems is growing in the area, said Lynn’s son, Dave Lagerstedt.

Of course, large linear sprayers stretching across fields and into the horizon have been around for a long time. They’ve dramatically changed, though.

“But this one,” Lynn said, “they have GPS end control. They have touchscreen … remote access from your smartphone if you want it.”

GPS Services offers Reinke systems, which are made by a company in Nebraska. Each system is custom built for a field, and outside companies drill the wells and build the sprayer units.

The new sprayers look just like the old ones. They’re connected to a well and are essentially giant sprinklers on wheels. But from a control module, a farmer can pivot the entire system back and forth across a field.

The farmer can even control that unit with an app on his phone. Where the sprayer won’t reach, a pivoting arm will finish the job. The options don’t end there, either. There is more precision.

“We can even get down to each row nozzle,” said Chris Lewison, who also works at GPS Services.

Among controlling water flow that precisely, one can add a chemical/nitrogen unit and pump a desired amount of those additives. Instead of pinching soil, rolling it between fingers and guessing, solar-powered probes placed throughout fields can offer exact measurements. Furthermore, farmers who digitally track yields with yield monitors can upload that data to the Reinke system through a simple USB port and decide where to apply more or less water and chemicals.

“If we can control moisture out there, we can substantially increase yields out there,” Dave said.

Though the technology is quite new, farmers in regions of poorer soil quality have already been using it with positive results. Dave said that means even better results for those with better soils.

“They don’t have the soil quality,” Dave said about other areas of the Midwest compared to Mower County, “But they are getting more production. … And this is highly productive soil. It’s going to pay huge dividends.”

The whole idea could offer a lot of comfort for farmers who are frustrated with the lack of rain.

“They don’t have to hope anymore,” Lewison said. “They can go push the button.”

A crop farmer could be anywhere in the world, check his soil moisture from a phone and turn on the sprayer. He wouldn’t have to worry about anything after leaving home, unless he forgot to shut off the stove.