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The well-connected farmer

New products keep you in touch with people, data and even your soil.

Marketers of new technology sometimes seem obsessed with connectivity for connectivity's sake. They ignore the reality that too much connectivity can be a nuisance, just like too much data.

But connectivity also brings the promise of increased productivity, safety and solid communication, if used wisely.

Below, we highlight products that can keep you in touch on the farm, whether it's with people or information, to help you make profitable decisions.

High-powered cordless. Nowadays, a farmer without a cell phone holstered to his hip seems like a dying breed. But around the farmstead, telephones tethered to land lines still dominate. A new high-powered industrial cordless phone/two-way radio system from EnGenius Technologies may allow you to cut the cord and reduce your cell phone airtime too.

The EnGenius SN-920 Ultra system boasts a powerful 900-mW base station with four times the power of 2.4-GHz cordless phones. With an optional external antenna, you can expect a range of one to three miles on most farms in the Midwest, depending on terrain and obstructions, the company claims. The built-in two-way radios are full-duplex, so you can talk without annoying starts and stops. Radios transmit independent of the base station, with the same range.

By distributing handsets around the farm, you can build a flexible, portable phone system. Each handset can serve up to four lines; a separate base station is needed for each line. Handset features include caller ID/call-waiting ID, call hold, call transfer, vibration mode, 3-hr. talk time and 80-min. battery recharge. To assure call security, the system hops frequencies 200 times/sec.

The list price for a base station and one handset/charger base is $349. Additional handsets are $159. An optional external antenna with 60 ft. of cable is $99. Lightning protection is $59. For more information, contact EnGenius Technologies, Dept. FIN, 1580 Scenic Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, 888/735-7888, or circle 213.

Always-on e-mail. If the market is moving, but you are too busy and on the move to stay abreast, BlackBerry wireless e-mail may be the tool you need. The BlackBerry system uses a pagerlike device from Research in Motion (RIM) to provide always-on wireless e-mail. Paging, by the way, is an option.

The service is delivered via the RIM 950, which measures 3 2 in. and is less than 1 in. thick, or the RIM 957, which is slightly larger: 4⅗ 31 / 10 in. and about in. thick. The units weigh about 5 oz. and run on a single AA battery or a rechargeable lithium battery, depending on the model.

Because the BlackBerry system was designed for business executives, service is concentrated around cities. However, in some states, such as Illinois, service is widespread.

Both RIM units have LCD screens that display 8 to 20 lines of text and a standard Qwerty (typewriter) keyboard for composing messages. They are powered by Intel 386 processors and have 2 to 5 mb of memory, depending on the model. The units include a personal organizer, calendar, address book, memo pad and task list, which can be synchronized with a PC through a cradle.

BlackBerry service is available from about a half-dozen service providers, including America Online, EarthLink and Yahoo. The RIM 950 sells for $399, and the RIM 957 costs $499. Monthly service plans start at $40. For more information, contact Research In Motion, Dept. FIN, 295 Phillip St., Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3W8, 877/255-2377, or circle 214.

Hands-free calling. Tired of dropping your sleek cell phone after failing (again) to balance it between your ear and shoulder while turning at the end of the row?

Take a hint from the suit-clad business types you may have seen talking to themselves at the airport while walking down the concourse. Chances are they were talking on a cell phone attached to an in-ear speaker and microphone. Whether you opt for an in-ear device or a headset, hands-free cell phone operation can increase safety and convenience.

Jabra, which made one of the first in-ear, all-in-one speaker/microphones, recently introduced three new hands-free options: the EarBud, the EarBoom and the EarWrap.

The EarBud comes with patented gel ear inserts in three sizes. The microphone is attached to the 4-ft. cord that plugs into a cell or cordless phone. The EarBoom's gel ear piece is attached to a short boom with a noise-reducing microphone. The EarWrap model secures the speaker to the ear with bendable, foam-coated plastic and has a noise-canceling microphone on a short boom.

Prices: EarBud, $20; EarBoom, $25; and EarWrap, $30. For more information, contact Jabra Corp., Dept. FIN, 9171 Towne Center Dr., Suite 500, San Diego, CA 92122, 800/327-2230, or circle 215.

Smart telemetry. Have you ever dreamed of being able to get up in the morning to a report that provides field-by-field soil conditions, the status of your crop, and current weather conditions, along with relevant recommendations to help you plan your workday? That dream can become reality with a telemetry system from Adcon Telemetry.

The backbone of the system is the A733SD addWave base station, which is solar-powered, with battery backup. It transmits data every 15 min. from sensors that capture current soil moisture, leaf surface moisture, weather and other factors to your home PC over the FM band. The PC analyzes data using proprietary expert software to tell you what the data mean and what actions to take, if any. Each A733 addWave unit can capture and transmit data seven to 14 miles, depending on terrain. Up to 95 units can be networked to capture up to 1,400 simultaneous measurements in a 30- to 40-mile radius.

To date, the system has been used primarily to optimize irrigation scheduling and monitor water delivery, which can save $30 to $60/acre in irrigation costs, the company claims. Growers also are using data collected by the system in disease-modeling programs to pinpoint best use of pesticides. The company continues to work with university scientists to expand and fine-tune the system to provide early warning of disease and insect outbreaks in major field and specialty crops.

The cost for a typical irrigation monitoring system is $10/acre. The company also sells the Lite station, which gathers weather data and can transmit data up to two-thirds of a mile. It sells for $3,000. For more information, contact Adcon Telemetry, Dept. FIN, 1001 Yamato Rd., Suite 305, Boca Raton, FL 33432, 800/360-5309, or circle 216.

Talk and browse. Internet-enabled wireless telephones with built-in information managers are on the cutting edge of connectivity. Unfortunately, in rural areas, wireless service may be digital or analog, so many multifunction phones can be impractical because they often are digital-only. The dual-mode Neopoint 1600 is both analog and digital, so it solves this dilemma to a point.

The phone provides e-mail access and Internet browsing on an 11-line screen (in digital mode only) and can serve as a wireless modem for a laptop or desktop computer. Its built-in personal digital assistant holds up to 1,000 items that can be synchronized with a PC. Other features include a vibration alert, caller ID, call waiting, call holding and an alarm clock. E-mail is entered using the telephone keypad.

Price: $199. For more information, contact NeoPoint Inc., Dept. FIN, 15445 Innovation Dr., San Diego, CA 92128, 858/521-5000, or circle 217.

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