19-Year-Old Combines Farming and Tech Experience, Develops iPhone App for Organic Farmers
May 16, 2012 | Jessica Vernabe
Alex Schimp started learning programming at age 11. Now, at age 19, he has developed an iPhone and iPod Touch application that will help certified organic farmers keep their crop records organized with simple clicks and taps of their fingers.
Schimp launched his Seed to Harvest iPhone and iPod Touch app in March. The app—available as a limited free version and a full version for $9.99 through Apple’s “App Store”—gives certified organic farmers the ability to record vital information right on the field (since the information logging aspect of the app does not require Internet access).
Farmers can use the app to keep track of information such as when they plant certain crops, how much of the crop they plant and where it’s planted; the input of soil amendments (such as composts, fish meal and organic pesticides); transplanting details; harvest details; and sales by cultivar and location. There is also a section of the app for overall field records, which might be used when a farmer puts manure over a whole field. All these features are available in the free version of the app, Schimp said.
Those who purchase the app’s full version are able to print PDF reports of the data, which is organized into tables. (Internet connection is required for the processing of the reports, as well as for data backup.)
Tracking such information is particularly important for farms that are certified organic because they are required to report the data to their certification organizations.
One farmer, Chris Bodnar, said he found out about the app through the Internet and purchased it a few days after its release. Bodnar, who has a certified organic fruit and vegetable farm called Close to Home Organics located just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, said it was exactly the type of crop record keeping tool he was looking for.
“That he (Schimp) actually released it as a phone app is appropriate in terms of how you actually use it,” Bodnar said. “When you’re in the field and you want to make notes, you don’t want to write down notes and then have to enter them into a computer that night. … What I like right now is it’s simple. It’s basic. It’s really easy to use.”
Schimp said there have been about 270 downloads of the app so far, most of which have been of the free version. Purchases made up about 25 to 30 of the overall downloads.
Schimp’s computer background started at an early age. He started learning to use the computer in a creative manner at age 8. At age 11, he started learning his first basic programming skills using the Liberty BASIC language, which he used to develop a basic spelling test application for his family. Wanting to learn how to do more, Schimp then learned some Microsoft programming languages. By age 13, he went on to learn C#.NET programming, and later also learned basic HTML and CSS skills, video editing, graphic design and 3D animation.
The foundation for Seed to Harvest started when Schimp was 15, which was around the time his family bought a farm that it currently runs in Lobelville, Tenn. (The farm is called Nourishing Harvest Farm.) He started creating a crop record keeping software program for desktops, but he said it became too much for him and he never finished it.
It wasn’t until last winter when Nourishing Harvest Farm was preparing to become certified organic that Schimp brought the concept back, this time in the form of an app. He wanted his family to be able to use the app for its own record keeping purposes. (The family farm received its certification in January.) Schimp started working on the project in December and officially launched the app in mid-March, he said.
“There’s already record keeping systems out there. I just haven’t seen anything on an iPhone like this (Seed to Harvest),” Schimp said. “It’s pretty straightforward in terms of entering records. … You just click the crop records, put (in the) new crops, type some information and click save.”
Thomas Schimp, Alex Schimp’s brother who manages Nourishing Harvest Farm, said using the app on his iPod Touch has helped him keep things much more organized.
“It really seems to clear up the office—a lot less paper,” Thomas Schimp said. “It’s a very organized system versus anything else. I was trying to make something up on Excel, and I couldn’t get to anything new what my brother made on the iPhone.”
Bodnar said he appreciates how easy it is to use Seed to Harvest.
“The thing about Seed to Harvest app is that Alex lives on a farm,” Bodnar said. “He knows what records we need to keep. And often, for farming, keeping it simple is more important than anything. We don’t really need a fancy program.”
Bodnar added that while he thinks Schimp is on the right track with the app, there is room for improvement. He has already suggested possible improvements for Seed to Harvest, such as the possibility of using cloud-based services (in which data is backed up and accessed remotely using the Internet). Bodnar said making the app cloud-based would allow his entire team of field workers to sync their phones and share data as opposed to just using the app through a single phone.
Schimp said he is considering the idea, but he has not yet made any specific plans for a cloud-based feature.
According to Bodnar, the benefit of farmers using early-stage apps and programs like Seed to Harvest is that they have the opportunity to help mold the final product.
“I feel advantageous in that we’re able to talk with the people developing the programs and provide input right now, and they’re being responsive to that,” he said. “It’s meeting our needs probably more than it would be in a later stage of development, depending on the willingness of people to continue to develop the product.”
Schimp said he’s yet not sure how far he will take Seed to Harvest, though he definitely knows he’d like to see more people using it in the future. He said he’s mulling over some possibilities for making the app’s interface even easier to use and providing additional options for data organization.
“It kind of depends on what it turns into—what people’s interest in it is (and) if it’s something that people find useful,” he said.