Have you thought about using aerial imagery but shied away because the associated computer software looked too complicated or your computer wasn’t powerful enough to run it? There’s an app for that.
Do you want permanent records of activities performed on specific fields or orchards but don’t want to hassle with Excel or other spreadsheets? There’s an app for that.
In fact, one app—or application—for iPhone and iPad can simplify aerial imaging and record keeping to the point where a few taps of a finger on the touchscreen can perform all the tasks you need.
The LandView application is the brainchild of central California grower Zach Sheely, irrigation consultant and grower Matt Angel, and agricultural software developer Tom Horsley, owner of Altamont Technologies LLC of Stockton, Calif. They are working with Geo- Vantage Inc., a Peabody, Md.,-based provider of satellite and aerial imagery.
“There are three barriers to imagery: timeliness, price and converting the data into useful information,” says Nick Morrow, with GeoVantage in Fort Collins, Colo. “We hope this [app] is the step in the right direction, and you don’t have to be a GIS (geographic information systems) pro to use it.”
By tying into the “cloud”—a fancy name for an off-site computer server—you also can effortlessly share the information with anyone you want who has an iPhone or iPad.
Birth of an app
Sheely and his father, Ted, are involved with AzCal Management Co. and farm a crop mix ranging from cotton and processing tomatoes to pistachios and winegrapes near Lemoore, Calif.
Sheely was introduced to remote sensing— or aerial imagery—maps about a decade ago when Ted participated in NASA’s Ag 20-20 program. The project’s goal was to develop and test remote sensing technologies and work with university researchers and growers to apply them to on-farm demonstrations and trials.
To view and manipulate the maps, ArcGIS—a cumbersome software program— was used, and it has a steep learning curve even today, Sheely says.
More recently, Sheely began using the iPhone with its simple, intuitive touch screen. More than a year ago, he bought an iPad, which uses the same operating system. Even his father now totes around an iPad in his pick-up truck to view maps and stay connected to employees and his office.
Sheely says he wondered why the simplicity of the iPad and iPhone couldn’t be applied to manipulating aerial imagery.
A mutual acquaintance introduced Sheely to Horsley, who was looking for an ag-related application to develop for the iPhone/iPad operating system.
Horsley says he didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, and the LandView app takes advantage of the rich features, such as the touch screen, global positioning system, camera and wi-fi connection, already found on the iPhone and iPad.
“It’s one app, but the [LandView] app does a lot of things. It’s intuitive and simple to use but feature rich,” Sheely says.
Powerful, yet simple to use
The app is built around Google Earth maps. Sheely simply tapped the screen of his iPad to demonstrate the LandView app. Up popped a Google Earth map of California.
With a few touches of the screen, he found the field he was looking for on their farm near Lemoore.
The app also offers a side menu with all of the fields, blocks or other divisions you designate, so you can navigate directly to them without going through Google Earth.
Another tap launched three buttons, including one for an NDVI vegetation map— an aerial image that shows plant vigor.
One more tap, and the NDVI map was super-imposed on the farm field map.
Unlike ArcGIS or other mapping software that may take three or more minutes to launch on a PC, vegetation maps load almost instantly on the iPad or iPhone.
Horsley says that is one of the nice features of the iPhone/iPad operating systems.
“Farmers want that information right now, and they want to make decisions as quickly as they can because that makes them or saves them money,” Sheely says.
Users also don’t have to hunt for the vegetation maps in file folders as they would on a PC, Horsley says. With the LandView app, vegetation maps are associated with fields or orchards.
“It’s plug and play,” Horsley says. “That’s a big, big advantage compared to ArcGIS. Users will find more uses for the aerial images than they are currently using.”
The aerial maps are stored on the cloud by cooperating image providers, such as Geo- Vantage. This eliminates the need to download the images, which are several megabytes in size, take several minutes to download and take up space on your computer hard drive.
Let the fingers do the walking
With a tap of his finger on a specific area of the field, Sheely made a note to one of the field managers to check the problem area. He also noted that he wanted a soil sample pulled.
That information was sent quickly via a 3G cell phone connection to the field manager, who wouldn’t have to guess where Sheely wanted the sample pulled.
Once the manager pulled the sample, he would check it off the built-in “to do list,” and Sheely says he’d have a record that it had been completed.
When the sample results came back from the laboratory, Sheely could take a screen shot of the report using the iPad’s internal camera and attach it to the soil sample site for a permanent record.
If Sheely were walking a field or orchard and saw something of concern, he also could shoot an image with his iPhone or iPad and send it to his pest control adviser along with a note. The iPhone or iPad automatically georeferences the image, attaching GPS coordinates, so the PCA could return to the same location.
Each time a user enters a 3G cell phone area, the LandView app automatically updates all of the iPhones and iPads tied into that network. There’s no need to sync units at the end of the day to update them, Horsley says. That also means everybody is always working from the same script, he says.
A useful tool for consultants, too
Morrow, who has been working with aerial imaging in the Midwest, says he sees a real use for the app among consultants.
“It’s going to help them do business for their growers more accurately,” he says. Aerial imaging and the LandView app will allow consultants to identify tile line problems, nutrient application errors, planter skips, compaction and disease onset—most of which aren’t visible from simply walking through an 8-foot-tall corn field.
In addition, the images and app will allow them to boost their efficiency by guiding them directly to the problem areas, Morrow says.
On sale at the Apple Store
Altamont will sell the app through the Apple Store for a nominal price to recoup development costs, Horsley says. But Sheely says he believes growers will see the value in it.
“It’s a minor investment,” Sheely says. “If you can make one really good decision out of this, you’ve paid for it.”
For more information or if you have questions, e-mail support@LandViewApp.com.