An app born in the paddock for the paddock

25 Sep, 2014 02:00 AM
Young Tasmanian farmer, James McShane, has developed his own electronic solution to the pocket notebook.
I’m out in the paddock every day and I can see what works and what extra features need to be added
Young Tasmanian farmer, James McShane, has developed his own electronic solution to the pocket notebook.

SMARTPHONE apps have encouraged many of us to develop an unnatural relationship with a very small screen but apps have also become the building blocks of new ways of farming.

Central Tasmanian woolgrower, James McShane, tested all the farmer-focused apps that came out in his search for an electronic solution to the pocket notebook but he couldn’t find anything with the experience he was looking for.

So he built the app himself.

At least he decided what he wanted in it; a mate, Tim Bendall, coded the software that was launched last year as Farmware.

There is no shortage of apps that seek to improve on the farmer’s notebook by allowing data to be entered into a database that allows swift and useful management of information.

The burr under Mr McShane’s saddle was that all the apps he tried either focused on individual animal identification – not practical on Australian properties with thousands or tens of thousands of animals – or had a rigid database structure that didn’t account for the messy realities of farming.

“I couldn’t put one mob of sheep in two paddocks,” Mr McShane said of the earlier software he tried.

“There was nothing out there that handled mob-based livestock records.”

Farmware aims to resolve those deficiencies. It records mobs and their movement, and paddocks and their treatments, and adds value by providing some powerful computational power in the background – for instance, calculating livestock performance and stocking rates.

Multiple users can record data on multiple devices and the information is brought together in Farmware’s ‘cloud’ servers.

The app was livestock oriented at its 2013 launch but Mr McShane understood that livestock and cropping went hand-in-hand across much of southern Australia.

A crop module was added earlier this year that enables recording of paddock usage and crop treatments and basic crop storage information.

To ensure the app is broadly relevant to farming situations,

Mr McShane has opted not to produce a native iOS/Android app.

Farmware is a web-based application with a subscription model based on the number of users.

Its developers are acutely aware that mobile service on farms can be spotty or non-existent. The application caters for ‘offline’ usage, allowing data to be entered without a connection and then later uploaded when the user is back in range of the mobile network or wifi.

Once in the cloud, the data is available through the Farmware interface on any device that can run an internet browser.

As data stacks up, it forms a historical record of farming operations.

Export of data isn’t currently possible but Mr McShane says it is coming in a future update.

Another update soon to be released will also acknowledge that the language of farming, and its units, varies.

Although the app was available globally, most users were in Australia, Mr McShane said.

However, even within Australia, terminology differed.

The update would allow farmers to change terminology and basic units of calculation – for instance, ‘dry sheep equivalents’ to ‘livestock units’.

The change is the result of an unexpected benefit of app development: the feedback from users that tells the Farmware team exactly where they are tracking well and where they are not.

In this instance, Mr McShane said he was one of his own best testers.

“I’m out in the paddock every day and I can see what works and what extra features need to be added.”

As Farmware heads towards its first year in the wild, Mr McShane said he was delighted with its development and the feedback he was getting.

The biggest obstacle to uptake of technologies such as Farmware is not the technology, Mr McShane says, but the generational gap on farms.

Farmware’s benefit lies in everyone in a farming enterprise recording data on the same platform.

Mr McShane said he regularly heard of young farmers who would like to use the software but were constrained because their fathers didn’t use smartphones – and didn’t want to.

The only resolution to this challenge might be time, he said.

To find out more about the Farmware app click here

Matthew Cawood

Matthew Cawood

is the national science and environment writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media


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