From Smokey Bear to “mobile hogs,” the Department of Agriculture is moving at breakneck speed to integrate mobile apps into every aspect of the far-flung and multi-dimensional department.
USDA is moving to put smart phones and other mobile devices into the field, from monitoring cattle coming into the country from abroad to allowing farmers and ranchers to instantly check on the latest prices for their products.
Among the recently rolled-out applications are Livestock and Grain Market News “Mobile Reports,” allowing viewing of market news reports specific to agricultural markets. In a news release to farmers and ranchers, the USDA noted that by subscribing to mobile reports, a condensed version of the reports can be sent to a mobile device, whether that user is sitting on a tractor or working in a barn. The mobile applications include “mobile daily direct hog,” “daily direct sow,” and “direct feedlot report,” just to name a few.
Ole Smokey Bear has his own app, this one directed at younger people. The Forest Service, as part of its “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” campaign, has enlisted the Smokey Bear app and PSA videos to teach youngsters (and their older counterparts) to pay attention when burning outdoors, whether that involves campfires or the errant cigarette. Among the features of the app are a step-by-step guide to building and extinguishing campfires as well as an interactive map of current wildfires across the country.
A related application is fire prediction software for mobile devices. This software, according to the Forest Service, can help manage forest fires and wild fires by putting data into a device that can help show where the fire may go next. While cautioning that firefighters shouldn’t rely solely on the devices, the Forest Service says the software can be a useful tool in the field.
According to Owen Unangst, USDA’s associate chief information officer for enterprise network services, the agriculture department has 38,000 smart phones used by people working in field, tele-workers and office roamers. He said more than double that number are projected to be in use next year.
At April’s FOSE conference in Washington in April, Unangst said the USDA is working on device management and developing app stores; a melding of tools that provides closer management across the enterprise.
He said one of the applications being developed could help workers conducting required health checks on thousands of cattle a day crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. That’s an example of internal applications for employees, while the “Smokey” app and the farmer/rancher tools are for the public.
In February, Michael Scuse, acting under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, announced at the Maryland Farmer’s Breakfast in Crumpton, Md., a package of technology enhancements from the Farm Service Agency, including applications for handheld devices and smart phones. The technology improvements are designed, he said, to allow users of FSA information to get instant and easy-to-understand data on loan deficiency payment rates, posted county prices and an “ask FSA” feature, he said in a press release.
“As an increasing number of farmers and ranchers move to mobile devices and other high-tech tools, we need to keep pace by investing in the best possible customer service while making the best use of taxpayer resources,” Scuse told the farmers. “The mobile website is an added convenience for farmers and ranchers and an effective, efficient way for USDA to deliver news, program information and reliable guidance on a variety of agricultural issues.”
Breaking Gov Deputy Editor Deanna Glick contributed to this report.