ISU researchers to produce app for farmers


Sam Greene/Iowa State Daily

Soybeans near maturity in soybean field south of the Iowa State baseball diamonds.

ISU researchers are working to create a web-based tool to help farmers make the best management decisions.

John Tyndall, associate professor in natural resource ecology and management, and Troy Bowman, a post-doctoral research associate in natural resource ecology and management, began work on the currently unnamed app this year.

Undergraduate research assistants also contributed to the creation of the nutrient and erosion management tool, which is designed to help farmers make more informed financial decisions in the context of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The web-based tool will include financial analysis of various “best management practices.” Categories of analysis will include land use modification, nitrogen and phosphorus management and edge-of-field technologies.

The cost numbers and information given in the tool will be up to date and modifiable, giving the farmers the most accurate information available.

“Each year, we will go back and update the numbers so no price that was given is stall, meaning the number currently being used [is in] 2014 dollars, then next year it will be [the] 2015 number and so forth,” Bowman said. 

There are always various costs that farmers must consider when they adopt new technologies or make management changes in an effort to better manage undesirable environmental or production outcomes.  

“These are out of pocket expenses to make these changes, and some of these changes are nontrivial costs,” Tyndall said, explaining how these changes will impact farmers both in terms of cost and management. “We thought it would be better to create decision support tools that farmers can use to look at the costs in terms of everything that is involved in using a particular technology.”

The overall goal of the app will be that a farmer will be able to see what changes are going to cost in direct expenses and in opportunity costs of land. Some of the technology will require the farmer to forfeit some land, which in turn means the loss of some crops.

The app will also allow the user to put in their own numbers when calculating the cost to implement certain technology practices; a farmer, or an extension professional working with a farmer, can adjust the tool to best represent the particular farm system in question.

There will also be default numbers available for use. 

“This will aid farmers in making the decisions. All we are doing is calculating the cost for them and doing the analyses,” Tyndall said.

That will make the information in the tool easy to access and makes sure a farmer doesn’t have to search for information. 

The two-year project is in its first year of development, with plans to unveil more later this year. The project will be complete by the summer of 2015 and the app is specific to Iowa. It is funded by the Iowa Nutrient Research Center.