When William Russell, William Waddell, and Alexander Majors kicked off what famously became known as the Pony Express mail service in 1860, they revolutionized the way information was shared across America.

With the Civil War pressing for a better system of information sharing, riders carrying mail by horseback could cover greater distances than could be achieved by early models of the electric telegraph. While the telegraph was faster, it lacked an infrastructure of lines and powerful electronic batteries to cover great distances.

Technology of the time, like now, did develop quickly however. By the end of the Civil War messages were being broadcast across hundreds of miles of hastily constructed telegraph lines, signaling the initial onset of technology's journey into rural America.

The speed and methods of long distance communication began to change again in 1876 when Scottish immigrant Alexander Graham Bell was granted the first U.S. patent for his new talking box. While the telephone was not widely distributed and used until much later, the system was moving in the right direction to make communication between two distant point faster than ever before.

About 120 years later the cell phone became the new telegraph and callers could connect from places previously unserviced by telephone lines and the world began to change again. And now, with modern Internet and/or satellite phone capabilities, sharing information rapidly has not only taken a major jump forward, but along with it comes new technology that allows users to access, transmit and store all types of data in addition to making simple voice calls and text messages.

For agriculture and other major industries this means an entirely different way of doing business in modern times. Many farmers and ranchers have already adapted to the new technology and now use their iPhones, iPads, and Android-powered devices in the field instead of in the office to handle such diverse projects as monitoring changing weather conditions while working in the field, the ordering and status of material and supply deliveries, electronically saving receipts for goods received instead of folding up another piece of paper to keep in the pocket, controlling irrigation schedules, and so much more.

 

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With the availability of new phone and device applications - better known as apps - booming across the industry, farmers and ranchers who have learned to embrace the new technology are saying it is as important to them as once was a hammer and screwdriver in the tool box of their pick up truck - and it can do a great deal more to help manage their operations.

Examples of useful apps

To ensure spray technologies are used at the correct volume to control insects and weed growth in a cost efficient manner, many farmers and ranchers use calculator tools on their iPhone device to make certain they are using products at the correct volume and in the most cost effective manner. Some of these apps help determine in what order to mix products and can also store data like the amount and date it was used.

There are also apps for record keeping of labor and supply costs. Spreadsheets can be generated indicating the history of seeding and applications and feeding schedules on the farm or ranch.

There are apps for finance and banking and for purchasing and marketing. Keeping up with market prices is another popular application and there are dozens of apps specific to your crop or livestock operation.

There are also other applications and programs that can allow a farmer or rancher in the field to connect to his personal computer in the office, so sharing or moving information to and from one machine or device to another can be done by the push or click of a single button.

On top of all the other popular applications available for your device, it also serves as a great way to keep up with workers, family, associates and friends and is a valuable tool for organizing personal schedules and keeping those easy-to-forget appointments.

With all the press about new phone and device technology development and with so many farmers and ranchers already using one form or another of electronic devices to manage their operations, even the hardest of us to convince are beginning to realize the benefits the technology can provide on the farm.

But knowing something is good for you and acquiring it and, more importantly, learning to use it remains a major hurdle that many are having trouble overcoming. After all. change doesn't come easy -- or does it?

Thanks to agriculture extension service programs like the one scheduled in Colorado County this week (Oct. 23), becoming familiar with new phone and device technologies and understanding how they can help your agriculture operation, and specifically how they work, is getting a lot easier, even for those of us that still have' post it notes' hanging around their desks with phone numbers on them from many years past.

While Texas AgriLife Extension service has staged many such workshops in recent times all across the state, as the technology evolves and more apps related to farm and ranch expand, workshops like the one scheduled in Columbus are not just convenient, but downright necessary if you are going to use the best tools on the job.

Next stop: Upper Coastal Bend

The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service of Colorado County will be conducting the special workshop in Columbus with the goal of training farmers and ranchers to use their iPhones and iPads to help make decisions to increase their profit margins.

The class is limited to the first 30 participants and will cost $30/person. Late registration will be $40/person. The registration fee will include proceedings, snacks, refreshments, and lunch during the program. Participants will get a chance to win an iPad to be given away at the end of workshop, to be held Wednesday, October 23, 2013 from 9:30am – 3:00pm at the Extension Office in Columbus (316 Spring Street).

Participants will learn to use their iPhones and iPads to make quick decisions in the field, on the tractor or in the pickup. Instructors will train producers to utilize these apps to more effectively manage risks in their business and improve the profitability of their business. They will learn to access market data to help them evaluate relevant pricing strategies.

"The goal is to teach farmers and ranchers to use their iPhones to make decisions to improve their bottom line, whether in the field, on the tractor or in the pickup,” said Jackie Smith, an AgriLife Extension economist in Lubbock and one of the workshop instructors.

The hands-on part of the workshop will be conducted on Apple iPads, but Microsoft and Android tablets will also be demonstrated during the class, Smith said.

Jay Yates, an AgriLife Extension program specialist in Lubbock who will also provide instruction, said the workshop will use a lab of 25 iPads to lead participants in hands-on sessions to better utilize some of the hundreds of agricultural apps available.

“We have been involved in a grant project to study the use of tablets and smartphones in agriculture to teach farmers and ranchers how to use the technology to become better decision makers,” he said.

Time will be spent to make sure all participants understand the basics of using an iPad and iPhone, but the majority of workshop time will be spent evaluating a wide range of agricultural apps, Yates said.

“Both of us have reviewed and/or used hundreds of apps in an effort to help farmers and ranchers quickly get to the apps that will help them the most,” Smith said. “We will discuss our favorite two or three apps in several different categories, including weather, record keeping, decision aids, livestock, agronomy, markets, precision ag, ag news and general utilities.”

The mobile device boom is putting cameras, touch screens, high-speed Internet and GPS in the hands of farmers and ranchers regardless of where they are, according to Yates.

“These basic capabilities of tablets and smartphones have paved the way for the development of thousands of useful apps, and we can expect their numbers to continue to increase as we move forward in time,” he said.

For more information and to register for this event please contact the Colorado County Extension Office at 979-732-2082. For other workshops around the state, ask your county agent or check the Texas Agrilife workshop schedule online.

 

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