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Ditching Your Paper Records?

For field crop production, having easily accessible records is essential.

If you didn't write it down it never happened; it's a lesson often learned the hard way. For field crop production, not having accessible records can range from not knowing when a disease or insect occurred to being in trouble with a regulatory agency. Fortunately, there are a lot of good smartphone and tablet apps that are specifically tailored to farm record keeping. Here are some tips for choosing a good record-keeping app.

Free apps can be good, but don't expect them to do everything. All of the free or upgradeable apps will have varying levels of self-entered record keeping. If you foresee upgrading to a paid service in the future or needing more advanced features, trying out a few free apps will help you figure out what features and interfaces you like or don't like.

If you're in an area of poor cellular reception or using a tablet without a data plan, choose an app that works well when off line. These can be synced when linked to a Wi-Fi connection or can be done manually over a cellular network (when enabled) when in an area of good reception.

Look at the website for the app to see what support is available or if there is a way to contact the company. Also check the version history in the app store to see how often things are updated.

Understand what happens to your data. Read user agreements carefully and make sure you are comfortable with who can view your data.

Know how your data is exported. In most cases, data can be emailed easily. However, know that data in the form of text, a. pdf, or a. csv (comma separated values) file can be exported to a spreadsheet. There are very few free programs that will export data as shapefiles (.shp) that can be processed for further analysis.

Look at the web interface in addition to the app. Many of the apps listed will have the ability to be accessed from your computer, with data stored on a cloud server. As with an app, make sure the computer interface is intuitive and easy to use.

Think about your next step. Some apps offer premium services for a price. Know what that price is and the value you gain from stepping up.

See which apps extension recommends.

--Zachary Larson, Penn State Extension