Good News: Workmentor now available on ANDROID! :)

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We worked closely with a Chilean team to develop the Android version of the Workmentor app. It’s almost exactly the same as the iOS app, just a bit more swish looking. Our brilliant head of tech, Inti, made it all happen.

As long as your phone has an NFC reader (check this list) workers can check in and out seamlessly, selecting the specific task they are working on at anytime..

If you aren't sure about Workmentor then ask yourself: Do you want to have a good level of trust with your workers? Want to cut down the amount of time your company spends managing workers? Want to know exactly how much time it takes to manage each crop? Workmentor provides all of this and more. Read more about it here, or contact us here to find out more.

We have many farms of all different sizes using our simple app in the UK, US and Chile. It’s a system we developed on our farm, so it is very easy for anyone on the farm to use it and made to work out in the field.

With Workmentor you can easily manage workers to know exactly what happens in harvest, including how much is harvested, as well as generate timesheets for day-to-day tasks all year round.

What you get with Workmentor:

  • Timesheets for each worker for each day, week and month with hours broken down by type of work
  • Calendar view of how much was harvested, by whom and when, plus total amounts for the day, week and month
  • A second by second log of how much each worker harvested, when and who was supervising
  • A record of how long was spent on each task
  • Good records of breaks to ensure workers get the breaks they need
  • Central log of information that everyone can see and trust
  • Single entry system, so much less risk of errors in the data
  • A very simple app that any worker can use out in the field to enter information

Are you interested in using Workmentor with your workers? Get in touch or find out more here. We are here to support fellow farmers and producers like ourselves and look forward to hearing from you!

 

Meet Erik & Soledad, the newest farmers using both our apps to save time and gather data

Meet Erik and Soledad who live on a farm in Maule Valley, Chile where they grow 11 acres of blueberries and 70 acres of corn. They are the latest farmers to start using Sectormentor and Workmentor.

Erik and Soledad are very hands on farmers, you find them out in the field most days. Soledad is a mother of 3 and the agronomist, she is using Sectormentor to ensure their blueberries stay healthy and they catch any problems early. Erik will be using Workmentor to help manage pay and workload for their 2 full time workers as well as contract workers during pruning and harvest. We are excited to be working with them and supporting their farming business.
 

Case Study: Davenport Vineyards use Sectormentor to help determine if they need to do a second pruning

Will Davenport and his team have been collecting data for years but it was confined to scruffy notebooks and only typed up a few months later. No he uses Sectormentor to record the pruning weights from sample vines to determine how vigorous growth is. Back in the office they use the Sectormentor website to look at weights, combined with bud numbers to decide if they need a second pruning, or if they should add more compost in specific areas. Good data, combined with their years of knowledge, helps ensure they do all they can to help the vines produce high quality organic grapes.

Last year he also used Sectormentor to record number of flowers per vine in early June, and that same day he had what turned out to be pretty accurate prediction of his yield 5 months before harvest, helping him plan and have his harvest run smoothly.

Sectormentor is very flexible so you can set it up to record whatever is important to you on your farm, so we have many different types of farmers using it. Sectormentor is also coming in handy as part of on-farm research and trials across groups of farms, from soil-sampling to agroforestry it can help everyone collect information and learnings that can easily be combined to help create a consistent and reliable data set, perfect to find patterns between multiple farms.  

Will Davenport tells us about his experience:

“Sectormentor helps us run our business effectively. It’s a management tool for out in the field, the more data I have about what’s going on in the vineyard the better I can do my job. We use it to record things like flowers per vine which gives us an early prediction of yields. It’s simple, you just record the things you need.”


Interested in how this could work for you, you can read more about it here, or contact us here

Case Study: Marcela & Jorge use Workmentor to save time and better manage their workers

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Marcela and Jorge run a family business growing and propagating blueberries and other fruits in the Central Region, Chile. They always used paper and poker chips to record the harvest but they recently switched to Workmentor to record how much each worker picked. Their workers love it, as do they! It saves them lots of time and makes it easier to pay workers. They have many fewer errors than before, plus it's easy to sort any disputes because they have a trusted record of everything that happened.

They are also starting to use Workmentor to manage their day to day timesheets as it’s an easy way for workers to log their hours on the go and record how long they spend on each task which is key for pay, understanding production costs and estimating workload. This is a new feature we have created to better support worker-farmer relationships and smooth administration.

Here is what Benjamin the blueberries manager has to say about using Workmentor:

"It saved me hours and hours of time as I can quickly and easily see amounts every week for every person. It's a very systematic way of getting data, there is not much room for mistakes. There is good traceability of who did what and when. We use it with no trouble at all with our regular workers and get good feedback from people that they trust the system. For example, we had a difference in kg between what one worker thought they had picked and what we thought they had picked. To resolve this we went and looked through Workmentor, it was clear minute by minute who had harvested what so we added it up there and she went away happy." 


Interested in how this could work for you, you can read more about it here, or contact us here

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Surviving the fire and the power of community

Being an independent and smaller-scale farmer doesn't always look that easy and we have been a bit quiet since a fire swept through our farm and charred everything.
The more time we spend on the farm, the more we want to feel part of a wider community of independent farmers, both locally and around the world.

We remain after the fire, and the rains have brought some green back to the land - it is amazing to watch the natural world recover... and funnily enough most of our RFID tags we use to record data survived the fire!

We now must wait and are focused on building up our soil... in the meantime we enjoy seeing the faces and farms of others and knowing that we can all work together to create a thriving independent farming sector. So part of the tech and tools newsletter & blog going forward will be about sharing these faces and voices, an echo of what Abby helps create with Farmerama. If you haven't listened to the latest podcast yet then do tune in here, it's all about a farming sector built on beauty and business.

9. Simple soil tests, passive solar planning ☀ and our first featured farmer 🌻

Tea Bag Index  - a simple scientific method to test microbial activity in your soils

The tea bag index (TBI) is a very low-tech, low-cost scientific tool that allows you to test the microbial activity in your soil. 

The Tea Bag Index experiment is easy: You take one green and one rooibos tea bag (everybody has to use the same brand). You weigh them, bury them 8 cm deep in the soil and after 3 months, you take them out, dry them and weigh them again. The weight loss will tell you how quickly plant material decomposes at the burial location. 

Decomposition is a critical function performed by soil microbes that recycles nutrients, forms humus and stores carbon. It is important to understand decomposition so we can improve soil nutrient status and take carbon out of the atmosphere.

The Tea Bag Index is a cheap and easy way to help you better understand microbial life in the soil on your farm. You can compare different materials (e.g. different pastures, different crops) or the same material in different soils/fields or at different times of year, or a combination. You can find a good explanation of how and why it works here.  You can also hear more about it in this month’s episode of Farmerama, listen here.

Sun Surveyor App - use sun and shade elements to guide decisions whilst out in the field

One of the most important resources on our farm is the sun (as is true on most farms). All of our buildings have passive solar design at their core, and the sun’s movements are always central to everything we create on the farm. The sun's positioning (and the length of shadows) in each season help us to determine the placement of a water tank, or where to plant the lettuces in the Summer.

The Sun Surveyor App makes it easy to foresee exactly where the sun will be at any time of day, any day of the year, at an exact location that you specify and calculate the shadows caused by any objects in the area. This makes it the perfect tool to use when you are out and about in the field and want to use passive solar/permaculture design principles to plant a stand of trees or determine the location of a new polytunnel.

The lite version is free and you can get pretty much all the information you need. The full version is £8 and makes it a bit easier as you can use your phone’s camera to see the sun position superposed on your surroundings.

Featured farmer: Nick Green from Incredible Farm, Todmorden  

We are excited to feature Nick because he is extremely resourceful and always looking for low-cost and easy options for making his small farm run effectively.

1.Can you tell us a bit about you and your farming setup?

We are a small community farm, started 6 years ago with the intention of re-inventing tiny family scale agriculture. Motivations are climate change, food security, sustainability etc.

We are on a 5 acre plot, deep in a Pennine valley with plans to expand.  We have several businesses within the whole: a veg business; a fruit tree nursery where we sell trees to community groups etc; and a  teaching business where we seem to be developing a USP of alternative provision – for the  ones who fit better into an outdoor setting than a school.

We also have a nano dairy, of 3 jersey cows, and are working towards sales of unpasteurised milk. Two pigs lap up the whey from cheesemaking and apple pulp from cider making from the nearly 1000 trees we planted 8 years ago.

We have nominal support locally, but the real support is young people coming to stay and work on the farm, for food and accommodation, from all over the world. Often the BEST people and future leaders. We have a strong sense of changing lives, globally.
 

2.Can you tell us the story of the latest tool you added to your farming setup? What works? what doesn't work?

This summer we made two new gadgets. A solar fruit drier, out of the polytunnel front door (we take it off in summer) vented with a solar fan. But the key to its success is slates: Black, heat absorbing and we had them already!

The other is a development of a simple milking machine we bought. We successively replaced the parts until we had the capacity we needed, and it ran on 12V from our solar supply. The cows like it, we like it, it’s easy to use, simple and cheap.
 

3.What is the most important tool you use? What's so good about it?

Probably the most useful thing we have is a supply of re used black one ton water tanks (IBC’s). We use them for all sorts: chopped in half for movable grow beds; for water storage that stores heat passively in the polytunnels; chopped down to make a hay feeder for the cows; to drag stuff around the farm; for a duck pond, or a gosling nursery; we even just use them for drinking water storage!

If you want to hear more about Nick's tools or ideas you can get in touch through Incredible Farm facebook or twitter, or send us any questions and we will pass them on.

8. Rollercrimpers, open source food network and tech for small-scale growing

'Crop Crimpers' - flatten and break cover crops

Conservation Agriculture: a trio of cover cropping, no-till and diverse cropping, is an important part of sustainable farming. The FAO suggests Conservation Agriculture's adoption is 'perhaps most urgently required by smaller-scale farmers'. One area that is still unclear, mainly in wet mild climates like the UK, is how to kill the cover crop at the appropriate time to plant your desired crop. Currently, many farmers do this using chemicals to burn the crop off. Hence, this farming method is not popular with organic farmers. Luckily, people are developing tools to ‘crimp’ the cover crop, or essentially break their stalks very near the surface of the soil. This technique means that the plant dies but the soil remains undisturbed.
The Rodale Institute published all the blueprints of how to build a rollercrimper they designed. An amended version for rough terrain is also available on Farmhack. You can also buy them directly. Their is a company manufacturing them in Pennsylvania, USA. This French company also makes something similar in many different sizes, for use in vines and on much smaller scale operations, they even have a horse-drawn option.
We asked John Cherry, arable/cattle farmer in Hertfordshire, UK and no-till advocate what he thought. “I really like the look of these things, but I've never actually seen one in the flesh, or metal strictly speaking. I'd love to know whether you could terminate a cover in our climate (wet) with one, it would be quite a game changer, glyphosate-wise.”

 

Open Food Network  - sell online from local food hubs & sell direct from the farm

Open Food Network is a not-for-profit that provides software for food hubs or for farmers to sell direct from their farm. They recently launched in the UK and are pretty well established in Australia. All of their software is open-source, so any tech-savvy farmers out there can potentially adapt it to their needs. Producers on Open Food Network (OFN) can choose to sell their produce directly to consumers, or via food hubs. To have a shopfront on OFN UK is free for anyone trading under £5000/year through their OFN shop, otherwise they charge 2% of monthly turnover - so anywhere from £100/year (if your OFN shop turnover is £5001/year) to £2000+/year (if your OFN shop turnover is £100,000+/year) to use their services. Farmers are also not charged anything if they are using the software to sell through food hubs or other producers.

There is a great article on how it benefits smaller-scale food producers and farmers here.

Open Food Network is a similar service to The Food Assembly which we featured a few months ago. The main difference is that The Food Assembly is a for-profit company that has taken external investment, so their service has developed much more quickly and is currently more user-friendly (but they do also take a larger cut of the turnover). They also have a slightly different model where people start Food Assemblies - or new food hubs as pick up and meeting points, rather than relying on current food hubs.

Another open source food software system we came across is Open Food Source, although this looks very technical and not as well developed.

 

Farmbot Genesis  - grow your own food with a tech helping hand

Farmbot Genesis ‘humanities first open source CNC farming machine’. The farmbot is a relatively simple robotic arm that seeds, weeds and waters plants in a plant bed. You can choose which plants you want to plant and in what setup using the app, and then the robotic arm will plant and care for your vegetables night and day, with very little required from you.  Initially this project seemed like the worst of robotic farming coming true. But, on second thoughts, it is a tool that could help many more people grow their own food on small-scales and locally. This is an example of a technology that can support more sustainable land management and smaller-scale mixed growing patterns. At the moment it can be pre-ordered for $4000 with the first machines due to ship in February.

7. Crowd-farming, future beehives & practical tips online

Crowdfarming  - anyone online can adopt a tree or beehive on the farm

A family farm in Valencia have created a crowdfarming model for their bees and oranges. This means that people from across Europe can 'plant' an orange tree on the Valencia farm at 80€ (or adopt a beehive) for the year, follow it’s progress throughout the year and then receive the oranges from the tree when they are ripe - you do still have to pay harvesting and shipping costs (about 30€).
This idea has similar benefits to a CSA model as the risk is shared between the farmer and tree-owner, although obviously the community aspect isn’t quite the same. It also allows people far away to be involved in the growing process and understand better what it takes to make delicious oranges from Spain. The technology to make this happen could be very simple, you could probably make it work with an online shop and maybe an instagram account for each tree, or some way of easily sharing progress of the tree someone has 'planted'.

Beekeeping the future  - easy-to-build hives & honey that just flows

The team at open source beehives have two templates for building your own beehives that don’t require any drills, saws etc to construct and allow you to build sturdy natural beehives that allow bees to build ‘free’ comb. This is in line with natural beekeeping ideas and is thought to be better and easier for the bees. You can purchase the parts pre-cut directly from them here for $295, or download the template and have it cut locally. A nice addition to the project is that the beehive comes with some simple sensors that monitor honeybee-health indicating factors inside a beehive, and then share the collected data online using the Smart Citizen platform. They aim to make it easy for anyone to gather data on honeybee collapse disorder and then share that data publicly so we can better understand the causes and effects of the bee's plight and hopefully how we can prevent it.

Another very interesting beehive project is that of HoneyFlow. With this beehive, to harvest the honey you just need to turn on a tap and the honey drains seamlessly out of the hive, hardly disturbing the bees at all. Many beekeepers attest to the brilliance of this innovation, and if you are using conventional hives, or just want one hive in your backyard then this does seem a good solution. On our farm we have opted to verge towards natural beekeeping methods which is not possible with HoneyFlow. However, we definitely think the HoneyFlow team are out to help the bees, you can read a UK Natural beekeeper's perspective on the HoneyFlow hives here.

Agricology  - practical, sustainable farming resource

A new online resource that aims to be a one-stop shop for practical information about sustainable farming. Everything on the site clearly communicates the latest science and on-farm innovations/experiments in a practical way. We like that it is a collaborative venture between leading UK organisations working together to support farming based on agro-ecological principles, this makes it seem like it's truly there to support farmers. They are clear they don’t want to tell farmers what to do, but provide a reliable and good information source.
They have some good low-tech soil structure tips, advice on livestock husbandry and our favourite bit is the farmer profiles, giving an insight into how different farmers in the UK are creating successful sustainable farm businesses. This profile of Stephen Briggs, an agroforestry and organic grain pioneer in the UK, is a great place to start. We visited his farm earlier this month and were very impressed with what he has created. Agricology is still in its early days, so we look forward to many more resources being added over time.