The smartphone and tablet have become an essential part of the daily lives of many in agriculture. No one visiting a major trade show, from the Farm Progress Show to Commodity Classic, can miss the number of farmers taking a peek at their phones to keep up with what’s going on back home.
A new app from Bayer, available for iOS devices, can turn that device into a more valuable information tool.
Called the Virtual Root Dig App, the idea is to provide an interactive space where you can see how pests and diseases impact crop growth, and learn more about treatment strategies along the way.
When you install the app, the first thing you do is select a flat surface in your shop or office. Then, you tap and hold your finger on the screen, and a plant appears — corn or soybeans, you decide.
Yes, the plant starts growing on your desk.
“We debuted a virtual root mass at Commodity Classic in 2018,” says Kelli Brown, North America seed applied solutions portfolio manager at Bayer. “The purpose behind that at the time was that we recognized innovation was happening in the industry, with newer product segments such as nematicides and bio-enhancers. But gaining awareness of these new categories can be challenging.”
Observing that it’s not possible to get every farmer to a field day to learn about the new tech, the display aimed at getting some attention to the new tools.
However, there was a need to do more — and that was the idea behind the new app, which went live in June. “We embarked on a journey to reach more people — including our field team, dealers and growers — but we wanted to use a tool that would educate in a fun and engaging way,” she says. “It would even be kind of cool if you wanted to educate kids, and people not familiar with agriculture.”
Beyond pretty graphics
The app itself does start out with that three-dimensional plant, corn or soybeans, growing where you decide. But you can choose the pest issue you want to explore — nematodes or disease, for example — and see that disease’s effect on the plant. You also can pull that plant out of the ground (figuratively) to see the root impact of the pest, which can be devastating.
The interactive portions of the app ask you questions to answer, such as what is the cost of fusarium, pythium and rhizoctonia on a crop? “We can talk about the scope of the problem and explore the solutions,” she says.
A new product area in agriculture is the bio-enhancer. These biological tools interact between plant and soil to boost yield by making nutrients more bio-available, or through other plant processes. Bayer offers those products, and the app can show how bio-enhancers work at a soil-microbe level though videos that can be played on the app.
“A plant can be under moisture and nutrient stress, and we can look at when that tends to occur,” Brown says. “We can get specific and talk about what bio-enhancers do and how they make nitrogen, phosphate and potassium more available. You can see the minerals float around the plant [in the app].”
Some of those biological products can be challenging to explain; but with the app, the user can see something at work through graphics and video. Brown points to B360 ST — BioRise — which can increase the mycorrhizal fungi around the plant. “When you start talking about that, you get some blank stares,” Brown says. “You can see how that can be illustrated in the app, so it’s easy to understand.” And the app can show how mycorrhizal colonization in the root zone is helpful to the plant.
One of the challenges in today’s increasingly tech-focused ag world is that it’s harder for customers to get an understanding of how new tools will work in an operation.
“Honestly, there’s a really significant portion of the work that we do that is educating around the problems and educating around some of those different cycles and processes in the soil environment,” Brown says.
“The understanding is not there, and that makes it difficult to talk about a product. This gives us a great opportunity to provide some education, and this can be helpful whether it leads to using a new product or not. It can help validate the current plan a farmer is following,” she says.
You can download the app to your iOS device — smartphone or tablet — by searching at the Apple App Store for “Virtual Root Dig.”