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Columbia Missourian

Farmers' technology conference introduces new phone apps

By Lauren Gatcombe
January 13, 2013 | 5:34 p.m. CST
Farmers across Missouri gathered in Osage Beach on Friday and Saturday to learn about new technology that can be used on the farm.

OSAGE BEACH — Tan-Tar-A Resort, with its lakefront view and water park, might not seem like an ideal destination in January, but it is for those who attend the annual Computers on the Farm conference, a place for farmers to share new technologies that are helping make their often time-consuming jobs a little easier.

Cows, for example, now have an iPhone app developed just for them. Farmers interested in the animals' health can record how many breaths-per-minute a cow produces and then determine if it is under heat stress.

Brad Scharf, a post-doctoral fellow in animal science at MU, unveiled the 99-cent app, called Thermal Aid, to about 25 attendees using a real-time video projector.

If a cow is overheated, Scharf said, the app offers useful tips, like "Modify diet and maintain food intake" or "Wet the animals and/or the ground." The goal is to make the app, which is available at the end of January, compatible with goats and pigs. 

Six undergraduate students at MU, including three journalism majors and three computer science majors, began developing the app with Scharf and their teacher, Professor of Animal Sciences Don Spiers, in the fall of 2011. 

Funding came from two grants from Mizzou Advantage and Mizzou's Interdisciplinary Innovations Fund. The overall cost of development was about $10,000, Scharf said.

The more than 30-year-old conference, which was held on Friday and Saturday, is sponsored by MU's College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the Department of Agricultural Economics.

Nine presentations filled the agenda at this year's conference, including a session on how to use a cow calculator to measure the profit of a cow and a look at useful agriculture mobile apps.

A free app, YieldCheck, created by Precision Planting in 2011, allows users to record the amount of corn they have planted and then calculate the amount of bushels expected to grow that season, which can help farmers combat the drought, said Kent Shannon, natural resource engineering specialist at MU Extension. 

YieldCheck can also tell farmers how much money each additional ear per acre would earn, Shannon said.

John Travlos, coordinator of the conference, first attended the gathering in 1985 while he was a graduate student at MU. The following year he helped plan the conference.

Travlos said it is easy to keep the conference fresh because attendees are constantly utilizing new technologies.

"Just like technology keeps moving, our group moves with it," Travlos said.

MU Extension Agriculture Business Specialist Brent Carpenter introduced an efficiency spreadsheet, Probable Fieldwork Days Model.

It advises farmers about how to manage time based on their crop acreage and type of equipment. The spreadsheet utilizes survey data collected by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service during the past 30 years. 

The tool is the first of its kind, Carpenter said.

Farmer Keith Koenig of Jackson has attended a dozen or more of these conferences. He said he attended this year to better understand phone apps that could be useful. 

Koenig has been farming with his parents since 1994 at their farm, K.E. Koenig Farms. They raise corn, soybeans, hay and beef. 

Koenig still struggles with the Internet on his farm because they still use dial-up. He said their only other options are to get a satellite or have a hotspot setup, but he's optimistic about the future because new cell towers in Jackson are a possibility.

Koenig said he enjoys the conference and seeing how others apply software in their work. 

"I enjoy the open-group sharing of not only our successes but also our failures," he said.