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E-Commerce is fast becoming the new catch phrase in agriculture marketing as technology has found a way to follow farmers everywhere they go. These days it seems that everyone you see has a cellular phone attached to his or her ear, and the same is becoming true with the use of PDA’s or personal digital assistants. The farmer is no exception.

The PDA or "the palm pilot", as it is most commonly known, is beginning to revolutionize the way producers obtain information. Before the mobile technology revolution, a producer had to go in from the field to check weather radars and forecasts, commodity quotes, market commentary, and agriculture news. Now, it is possible for a producer to download that information right in the cab of his truck or tractor.


An example of this farmer-friendly technology is Omaha, Neb.-based Data Transmission Network’s Rover. The DTN Rover combines hand-held technology with cellular phones to deliver agricultural information anytime, anywhere. According to DTN Product Manager, Mike Moore, the idea for the DTN Rover began when subscribers wanted reliable information while they were away from the DTN station. "The DTN Rover provides the bare-bones information that farmers need to make decisions, such as DTN commentary, local cash grain bids, in-motion weather radar and market prices."

Southwest Nebraska farmer, Roric Paulman, produces popcorn, field corn, white and yellow food-grade corn, soybeans, sugar beets, wheat, and pinto beans on 1,000 acres of dryland cropland and 5,000 of irrigated cropland. With the size of this farm, along with a trucking business that enables Paulman to move his own crops to market, he says he lives in a truck. "I would check my DTN screen inside the office several times a day, but it just wasn’t quick enough to trade effectively," Paulman says.

"I am a basis trader. With the Rover’s ability to change area codes, I can check Northeast Colorado, Northeast Nebraska, and other areas’ basis levels to decide which way to move my commodities. For me, the Rover was a natural."

Paulman says he has been using his palm pilot for over two years and is really pleased that in about two-and-a-half minutes he can download various market information, weather forecasts and the New York Stock Exchange to get what he describes as "a general picture of the economy."

You may be wondering how this may benefit marketers. Moore says that DTN is looking ahead to the possibility of incorporating information on what vendors are doing or company recommendations into the Rover’s capabilities. He says, "Several large vendors are interested in this type of market where they will be able to provide hand-held technology to their better customers with both DTN information and the vendor’s information. This would provide vendors a captured audience."


A joint venture between Farm Works Software and Premier Technologies, Auburn, Ind., has resulted in another mobile device called the AgBoss, which is a ruggedized, Windows CE computer used for various in-field applications. The hand-held computer is designed for commercial applicators that use the go-anywhere system for soil sampling, grid mapping, creating prescriptions for variable rate controllers and running spray controllers.

John Colgate, office manager for Premier Technologies Inc., says approximately 50 commercial applicators and producers nationwide are using the system. At this point, he says the AgBoss is not the most cost-effective tool for small producers, but is more widely used in the commercial fertilizer and construction industries.

An example of this is the United Ag Products branch in Birch Run, Mich., which uses the AgBoss for all of its variable-rate application of fertilizer and lime. Ryan Valik, decisions support systems manager for UAP, says the AgBoss is a real cost-saving measure when spreading fertilizer. "You always see a cost-savings when using the AgBoss in variable-rate fertilizer and lime application versus blanketing a field with two tons of lime," says Valik. He also says there is a definite agronomic benefit in putting that product where it needs to go.

Colgate says the possibility exists for the AgBoss technology to be used by chemical or equipment manufacturers, as well. For example, manufacturers could determine what products a farmer or applicator is using, when the product is being used and exactly where it is being used. Through the GPS receiver, this highly accurate data could then be transferred to the manufacturer. AM

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