More and more pork producers are turning to smartphones as a go-to tool within their operations. The dizzying array of applications, or “apps,” as they are commonly called, can seem a bit overwhelming.
Weather, news and financial information apps are popular. There are a number of apps being introduced for the agriculture market every day. At this point, it seems the majority of agricultural apps are targeting crop production. However, a number of companies are developing tools specifically for pork producers.
Feedlogic Corporation, an information company, is working on the cutting edge of technology with the main goal of keeping feed in front of pigs. Smartphones figure prominently in the technology mix. Feedlogic President Drew Ryder says smartphones are tremendous tools that provide a hand-held version of what would have required an entire desktop computer several years ago. The convenience of having that computer-like capability in a portable device is a big advantage when it comes to using information in a swine operation. “Information is a lot less effective when it is limited to a localized device,” Ryder says.
Smartphones give producers the option to connect to the Internet and not just a cellular network. “If you want to search for information, you can get it very quickly,” Ryder says. “Now, information can be stored in the cloud, meaning it is on accessible servers and can be used on multiple devices. By comparison, if you have to capture information at your production site on paper, then you or someone else takes that paper to another location before it is entered into the computer. This means there is more opportunity for error because information is being handled multiple times. If you are able to enter information directly at the production site and store it to a cloud-based database, it can be more easily accessed by your veterinary clinic, employees and feedmill, for example,” he explains.
Following are a number of companies that are working to develop apps for the pork industry.
Feedlogic Corporation, Willmar, MN
The Feedlogic FeedAlert and FeedMeter systems allow pork producers to monitor feed use and bin inventory via smartphone. Both systems are simple sensor systems that attach to standard feed lines in hog facilities.
“Our focus is on feed because it is such a high-budget part of the operation,” Ryder explains.
Advanced telematics systems are used to connect to the Internet and provide producers with instant access to feed data. FeedMeter records all feed flow data and can be used to monitor feed consumption. It can also be used to track feed levels in bins and predict when they will be empty, helping to avoid out-of-feed events and to schedule feed delivery.
FeedAlert is a lower-cost system intended primarily to detect feed bridging and warn producers of feed outages. “Remote monitoring of feed lines via smartphones helps alert producers so they can promptly deal with problems that may come up,”
Feedlogic Corporation plans to introduce feed management apps to the marketplace later in 2012.
Alltech, Lexington, KY
Alltech recently launched an app for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry smartphones. The app, applicable to production systems of all sizes, helps producers search for information about swine health by featuring a “symptom checker” feature. The app includes customizable commodity listings coordinated with DTN and local weather forecasts.
Billy Frey, Alltech’s global manager of digital marketing, says people use apps to have fun and play games, simplify their lives and improve communication.
“I think it is very important to provide people with easy access to information to make their lives easier,” Frey says. “With Alltech’s Pig App, we tried to focus on what people in the barn could use to identify and fix problems as they come up, for example with feed or animal health concerns.”
The Alltech Pig App can be downloaded from the Apple iTunes store, Android marketplace or BlackBerry App World under the name “Alltech.”
Frey advises anyone who might be intimidated by using technology to just plunge in. “Just get started,” he suggests. “Nobody has a silver bullet when it comes to learning technology. The best way to start is to get your hands dirty.” He says one way to build confidence is to start with something simple or fun. “Maybe you could start by getting some games you like, or a weather app, for example,” he notes.
Herdstar, LLC,LeRoy, MN
Mark Sample, product specialist with HerdStar, echoes Frey’s advice for producers: “Don’t be afraid of new technology. Get in and play with it and learn what it can do for you,” he suggests.
The BinTrac system currently sends text and email alerts for “no feed usage” events and when feed deliveries are made or are needed. This provides users with the ability to respond rapidly to potential out-of-feed events or unscheduled deliveries.
HerdStar is also working on an app that will help with tasks such as bin monitoring and feed management. The app is expected to be ready in late 2012 or early 2013.
The HerdStar BinTrac Feedline Control integrates feedline control with bin monitoring by operating feedlines, agitating bins, tracking feed usage and activating alarms when necessary. Both on-site and remote-monitoring capabilities are currently available for the system via smartphones or the Internet.
— Lora Berg is a freelance writer from Lakeville, MN.