Farmers power up PDAs to replace pen and clipboard

A Canadian software firm has helped a subsidiary of DuPont plant the seeds of technology for its agronomists in the field.

FieldWorker Products Ltd., a Toronto-based

software company specializing in application development tools for handheld computers, has provided Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. with a tool set that enables its agronomists to capture field-scouting observations using a PDA. Pioneer sells products and services to help farmers grow crops.

Craig Tyndall, a business development manager at FieldWorker Products, said the tool is essentially a replacement for the pen and clipboard that workers customarily take to the field. The Java-based program is designed to run on any handheld device, but the Pioneer program, currently in the second year of its testing phase, has standardized on Dell’s Axim, which is equipped with GPS capabilities.

“”A lot of our customers have to write stuff down, take it back home or to the office, type it into their computer and analyze it later — that time is all wasted,”” Tyndall said. “”One of the things that Pioneer found was that once the PDAs were used to collect data, they also found extra uses for them.””

Todd Peterson, Pioneer’s emerging technology manager in global agronomy and nutrition sciences at its Johnston, Iowa-based headquarters, said that the tool itself was tweaked for Pioneer’s use.

“”It’s an easily customizable software kit that allows you to put a template together for a handheld device. In our case, there are broad categories of factors that might be the reason our sales agronomists are walking onto a farm — disease, insects, a suspected chemical application problem or error, or weather. The toolkit let us build a template around these needs and send them out to our mobile units,”” he said.

Peterson gave an example of the application coming in handy last spring. A sector of eastern Illinois was faced with a seedling disease that was affecting some corn crops. The agronomists’ PDAs, which were synched every night, were able to receive full updates on the data collected about the disease, and the agronomists had the information on hand in case it was encountered during their fieldwork.

“”These kinds of applications are not new among remote sales forces, utility companies or delivery companies, but by applying it to crop production we hope that growers will get a real benefit of the information in an effective way,”” Peterson said,

Currently 70 of Pioneer’s 120 agronomists are participating in the program, including some Canadians. According to Peterson, most of those using the PDAs have latched onto the technology and have found it to be beneficial.

But as with most projects that introduce a new technology, some of the agronom

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