Tech Tuesday

Online Farm Tools Offer Support

Universities offer a range of online programs to help your operation, and new one has just launched.

The Web is filled with great tools you can put to use on your farm. Whether you're talking about the Spreadsheet of the Month archive we have a Farm Futures or the FarmDoc database of tools from the University of Illinois, this is a growing resource for producers. Now comes word of a new online tool from Iowa State University to help farmers earn more and waste less.

The free tools are designed to help you make better on-farm decisions. They're calling it I-FARM (doesn't everything have an "I" in it these days?) and you can find it at www.ifarmtools.org. The aim is to assist farmers, bankers, extension and cooperative folks in how to get the most out of their land for the least cost.

Developed by Ed van Ouwerkerk, the program draws on information collected from various state, regional and national sources. You can input various aspects of your operation along with your farm's location into the system. The software then predicts and compares farming outcomes. The classic "what-if" scenario builder for your farm, the tool uses Google Earth to locate and highlight up to 20 fields you want to evaluate.

Tell the system the crops for the field, intended rotation cycle and other inputs. You can change the scenario by changing the inputs. The system doesn't make choices for you, instead it plays out your choices to show what works best. And it's pretty sophisticated. The example cited by ISU is that the program might show that your input choices could lead to more soil erosion - perhaps due to tillage choices. The system can calculate slope for those fields from that Google Earth data.

If the system says you're losing too much, you can tweak the program to find the right approach for those fields. It's sophisticated stuff, but offers a lot of management potential for your operation. Check it out and see for yourself.

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