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Apps Help Farmers With Efficiency During The Drought

Lesley McClurg / Capital Public Radio

Soil scientist Anne Burkholder uses the app SoilWeb to determine the soil type in an alfalfa field in Davis, CA.

Lesley McClurg / Capital Public Radio

As the drought continues and the weather heats up, California farmers are grappling with how to allocate dwindling water supplies.

Patrick Dosier, an independent agronomist and agriculture tech consultant, says smartphone or tablet apps can help with water efficiency.

"If you can think of your irrigation water supply as your savings account and checking account, you're basically running at a deficit right now," says Dosier. "An app can do the accounting for you, and help you to spend your limited resource more wisely."

Dosier says there are a growing number of apps that can help farmers monitor equipment, track labor and manage farms remotely.

Anne Burkholder is a soil scientist. She's standing in an alfalfa field in Davis that has an unusual large dead patch in the middle of it.

“Basically the alfalfa is maybe five inches tall, and it's really yellow and crunchy right here where we’re walking," says Burkholder.

She pulls out her smartphone and clicks on an app called SoilWeb to see what’s going on. She clicks on 'Get my location.' The app tells her she’s standing on soil that’s very salty and alkaline called the Pescadero series.

She walks about 100 yards forward to a bright green lush section of the field.

Standing hip deep in flowering alfalfa she pulls out her phone again to check her location on the SoilWeb app.

“It pops up that we are on the Yolo series," says Burkholder. "And, it gives me a picture as well. It's called a 'pedon,' which is a 3-D representation of the soil under the ground.”

Burkholder says the Yolo series soil type is much better for growing crops.

The app has identified why one section of the field is producing well, and another not all.

Back in the office, Burkholder clicks through reams of digital data, graphs and maps to learn more about the two types of soil.

At the iPhone app store, there are nearly 900 apps related to agriculture.

"The current generation of young farmers that are going to inherit the operations all have smartphones, they all have tablets," says Patrick Dosier. "And, they’re scanning for the new product that’s coming their way that’s going to help them be more efficient.”

Dosier organizes a hackathon called Apps for Ag. This year's event is in Davis in the fall.

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