Minn-Dak’s Growers Embrace Mobile App
Agriculture and mobility. They’ve fit together, like bread and butter, for generations. It’s hard to imagine one without the other. Now, however, “mobility in ag” has taken on a whole...
Agriculture and mobility. They’ve fit together, like bread and butter, for generations. It’s hard to imagine one without the other. Now, however, "mobility in ag" has taken on a whole new dimension in this digital technology era with the development of mobile apps designed for the farm. A good case in point within the sugarbeet sector is a mobile harvest data app developed by Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative in concert with Myriad Mobile, a Fargo, N.D.- based developer of mobile applications for businesses. The app, first used during the 2014 harvest, started out by providing real-time access to scale tickets at piling stations. The scale ticket totals, calculated in net tons by day and by season, could be accessed by Minn-Dak grower/shareholders at any time, thus allowing them to continually monitor (1) quotas during preharvest to ensure they didn’t go above their quota limit, and (2) truck weights during both preharvest and the main harvest to ensure their fleet stayed within the legal road weight limits.
The mobile platform was expanded for the 2015 growing season, allowing growers to enter field information all season long — items like planting date, varieties, herbicide and fungicide operations. By the time harvest rolled around, the app’s reporting capabilities also included piler wait times,real-time tons/acre calculation by field, and the ability to filter piling station scale tickets by truck, field and date. It won’t stop there. Minn-Dak and Myriad Mobile will be holding focus group discussions early this winter (as they did a year ago) to collect grower input and suggestions as to what they like (or don’t) about the mobile app — and what types of additional features they’d like to see incorporated. Mike Metzger, research agronomistfor the Wahpeton, N.D.-based sugarbeet cooperative, says the time was right for development of a mobile app for its growers. "It’s no secret: the world has gone mobile," Metzger remarks. "We’re at a transition in our co-op where a lot of guys of my generation — in their mid- to late 30s — are starting to take over operation of the farm. And my generation is very tech savvy. We were looking for a way to tap into that, and the biggest [opportunity] was the harvest: How do we get them more information quicker, almost in a ‘realtime’ fashion?" The initial app was "very bare bones," says Tom Knudsen, Minn-Dak’s vice president-agriculture. It basically consisted of the electronic weigh-out ticket, previously provided in hard copy form. But the dozen growers brought in for a focus group following the 2014 season made it clear they’d already moved beyond the initial intent behind the app. "I was just blown away by all the uses they could find for this ‘strippeddown’ app," Knudsen remarks. "I mean, they would plan their lunch breaks, potty breaks, naps — you name it — based on when the truck would leave the field." The second phase of the Minn-Dak mobile app came last spring, with the incorporation of grower practice records. "Back in ‘the day,’ we would have just given them a 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, and they filled out one sheet per field. Then, in the mid-2000s, we went online and they could input each field’s info on their computer," Metzger recounts. "Some would tinker with it on a mobile device, but that usually didn’t go very well. "So we figured, ‘Hey, if we can make it work where they can enter their information while they’re doing [a particular field operation], we get more information — and better information." That led to discussions with Ryan Raguse, the president and co-founder of Myriad Mobile — and the son of a Minn- Dak shareholder. Raguse and his group wrote a user-friendly — but more advanced — program based off the 2014 harvest app experience. "For this one, on the agronomic side, we really ramped up and hit a ‘home run’ right off the bat," Metzger enthuses. "We told Ryan what we wanted, and his team did it — and they had to do it for two platforms: Android and Apple."
Knudsen and Metzger estimate that at least 90% of Minn-Dak shareholder operations were using the mobile app as of the 2015 harvest season. While some older growers may not be quite as comfortable with or accepting of the technology, the younger generation has totally embraced it, they say."We’ve found that the information we’re providing to them in real-time is almost addictive," Metzger observes. "They’re always checking the app, checking their loads. We tied in a lot of detail this past year on wait times: they can sort by trucks or by station; do a lot of querying on the app. They absolutely love it. "The ultimate goal, in my mind, is to make this a ‘one-stop shop’ for information for Minn-Dak," Metzger continues. "Whether it’s Cercospora DIVs, sugar data, quality information. . . it’s just going to get bigger and better." Knudsen points out that while Myriad Mobile is Minn-Dak’s primary partner in terms of programming the mobile app, "there are a couple other players as well, making this work." Ecliptic Technologies of Moorhead, Minn., handles the co-op’s data base management. AgTerra Technologies out of Sheridan, Wyo., is also involved because Minn-Dak’s AS/400 operating system ties into their database. "So the four of us have to ‘play together,’ and it’s gone well," Knudsen affirms. Where might the Minn-Dak mobile app go from here? The possibilities are almost endless, Knudsen, Metzger and Raguse agree. Geo-referencing of individual fields is one example. "As you enter a field or drive by one, you’d be geo-referenced on your app," Knudsen explains. "So it could give you all sorts of information about that field: variety, planting date, herbicide use, DIVs, etc." Another refinement could be the tailoring of information sent out from the co-op to growers based on geography, i.e., sending pertinent notices to some but not to others. Root maggot fly activity is a good example. Root maggot is a problem in parts of Minn-Dak’s northern district but not further south. "So when there’s peak fly activity in the Sabin-Baker (Clay County) area, those guys with fields within a certain determined geography would be notified; but we wouldn’t bother guys down south," Metzger illustrates. "Another one — and we’d have to build a prototype first to make sure it actually works — is the technology called ‘iBeacon,’ initially built by Apple," Raguse says. "It puts out a message saying, ‘This is me.’ You could put those in every truck, and each truck could then register at the piler without having to scan a card." The iBeacon could even provide accelerometer data for each truck, among other capabilities. That may seem intrusive to some people; but it’s also a safety issue, allowing growers to monitor their truck drivers’ speeds. "There are all kinds of possibilities," Raguse affirms. "The real challenge is, how do we take all of this and focus it down into a useable application where the user experiences it in a way that becomes virtually intuitive." "That’s what is fun about all this," Metzger concludes. "Our growers use it, they’re excited about it, and they want to be able to do even more with it. There’s literally no end to where this could go." — Don Lilleboe