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Newton farmer uses smartphone 'app'

Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 11:39 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 11:46 a.m. CDT
(Joseph Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)
Newton-area farmer Rolland Schnell stands with his combine, one of the many tools he uses to gather and map data while out in his fields.

As agricultural technology advances further, don’t expect local farmers to be left in the dust.

In fact, one Newton farmer has combined the capabilities of his smartphone and his tractor’s built-in GPS to keep his fields in tip-top shape while monitoring everything from fertilizer cover to crop yield.

Rolland Schnell, a Newton-area farmer, relies on GPS mapping and variable rate application input data to guide his farming decisions.

“I collect all my data, and I have since the late ’90s,” he said. “I compare layer yield data information from one year to the next and look at the yields on respective fields, and use that information in my planning.”

Harvest season is one of the most important times of the year for Schnell to gather statistics. The numbers he collects as he harvests help him to determine his needs as a farmer for the coming growing season.

“In the fall, a yield monitor plots data every second and records a plot with longitude, latitude and elevation,” he explained. “And you’re also recording grain flow, moisture and temperature, which boils down to bushels per acre.

“I use my smartphone extensively,” he said. “I’m always on it in for weather when I'm in the fields. During harvest time and planting time, I’m covering every square inch of my fields. With that bird’s-eye view, I record any problem areas in my field, like rocks, and I download the coordinates straight to my computer.”

That allows Schnell to combine data collected via his GPS devices with that sent directly from his phone for an accurate and complex map of each of his fields. Additionally, he employs applications on his phone to identify anything that might compromise the quality of his harvest.

“If I see a weed and am not sure what it is, I’ll look it up on my weed app and identify it.” Schnell said.

In addition to identifying weeds and pests with his phone, he keeps track of farm commodity markets throughout the season.

With those technologies combined, Schnell said, not only data collection, but data analysis, is becoming more attainable for farmers.

“There’s no question it’s allowing us to become much more efficient in every way,” he said, “which is the bottom line dollar.”

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