Some P.E.I. farmers are turning to a new kind of software to keep nitrate levels in check and make their job easier — using an iPhone.
"They've got apps for everything and now we're developing an app, the [province] is developing an app for producers like ourselves," said Kevin MacIsaac, a potato farmer in Bear River for nearly 30 years.
MacIsaac is one of 40 farmers in the local watershed area using new software — PEI AgriLogic — that will help him keep track of how much fertilizer he uses.
"The AgriLogic software is something that we're using as a tool for farmers within those watersheds to get a handle on nutrient management and to start to see what changes they can make on their farms and what influence that will have on nitrate levels," said Erica MacDonald, speaking for the provincial Department of Agriculture.
Concerns about groundwater
The pilot project came out of recommendations from the Nitrate Commission.
An agriculture consultant company in Quebec created the software program, and it has been customized by the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture to meet the needs of farmers on the Island.
The commission said farmers should keep better records of how much nitrogen goes into the ground, so that it doesn't end up in lakes, streams and groundwater.
"We and our neighbours here drink our water here, and we don't want to create a level that's too high and not good for the environment," said MacIsaac.
Now, MacIsaac can use his phone out in the field to voice-record what he's spreading and where, and the information goes directly into the computer program.
"The very last thing we want to do is work a long day and come home and have to enter a pile of notes into something," he said, recalling what he used to have to do.
Now when MacIsaac gets home, the information is already on his computer, along with maps showing the fields, rivers and buffer zones on his property.
"It's user friendly for farmers, but it's just like anything else — it takes time to learn how to use it," said MacDonald, of the Agriculture Department.
Next year the province wants to see 80 farmers using the technology and then, possibly take it provincewide.
Farmers who don't want to use the iPhone can record the information on a hotline, and it will be transmitted to the program.
The voice recordings on the fertilizer app end up in Quebec, where someone transcribes it to the software program by the end of the day.
The program tells MacIsaac if he's using too much nitrogen in his fertilizer.
It also helps with food safety. MacIsaac sells potatoes to Cavendish, which has strict regulations. The system helps him keep detailed records, so if something does go wrong, it can be traced back to the farmer quickly.
"This allows us to produce very detailed information very quickly, and that's the name of the game," MacIsaac said. "If there's a problem, and I'm sure there never will be, we have to be prepared and proactive."