As farms grow larger and more far-flung, communicating what fieldwork needs to be done — and where — becomes a challenge. One of the newest tools for letting the co-op know you want the “Stone Quarter” sprayed tomorrow is available on the World Wide Web. It uses a map to identify the precise location of the Stone Quarter, so there's no confusion, even if the new guy at the co-op doesn't know the Stone Quarter from Stonehenge. It's free. It's Google Maps.
Most Web users have experience with Google Maps (http://maps.google.com), mostly to find their way from Point A to Point B.
Located on the Google Maps home page is the My Maps feature. This free mapping service allows you to create a custom map, then e-mail the map's link to anybody you'd like. Such as the co-op.
We created the map on the right with the help of North Dakota farmer Tom Henry as an example of what's possible. This map shows a portion of Henry's farm near Newburg, ND, along with instructions for various field activities, from applying fertilizer, to spraying for weeds, insects and diseases.
This map is fictitious. Henry didn't necessarily plant the color-coded crops on this map in these fields (although he does grow the crops). Nor did he necessarily hire the field operations indicated. (For example, he handles most of his ground-spraying chores.) Also, in a real-world situation, the map probably would show fewer activities at any one time. For example, if it were used to direct preplant burndown weed control, it would show only fields requiring that application.
As you peruse the map on the Web, click on the field shapes. You will find information about the crop being grown. (If you created your own map, the sky's the limit on the information you could capture here.) When you click on activity icons, such as the teardrop spray icon, you will see instructions for specific field operations. Again, you're free to use the activity icons any way you want on your own map.
We also embedded a photo in the map to illustrate another Google Maps capability. In this case, the photo shows a sunflower field with emergence/growth problems from herbicide carryover. You also could embed a video — to show your agronomist a field area you want him or her to check out, for example.
Although Henry hasn't used Google Maps in the manner we are suggesting here, he thinks it has possibilities. He tinkered with it a few minutes this fall. “It was very simple,” he says.
“You could send the link to the spray operator,” he continues. “In the past I have either faxed FSA maps or scanned them and e-mailed them or taken the maps into town. I think there would be a way to attach the FSA map as a photo in the Google map. That way they could see exactly what you had planted there and the acres.”
Making a Google map
Although the My Maps feature of Google Maps probably hasn't been used extensively in agriculture, it has been used widely by vacationers and news organizations to show where they have been and to capture geographic-based news and information. For example, last fall, various news organizations used Google Maps to help San Diego residents stay abreast of wildfire-related road closures and other information.
For a look at a range of maps built with Google Maps, select “Browse Popular Maps” in the featured content section found in the “My Maps” tab. (You will have to set up a Google account to do this. See Step 1, at right.)
To get down to the nitty-gritty of creating your own map some wintry evening, follow the instructions given at right. Be aware that this will mostly be a self-taught skill.
The activity icons on our sample map were designed by graphic artist Dennis Wolf. The stock “Placemark” icons work just as well. Or design your own.
Go to http://maps.google.com. Click on the “My Maps” tab. You will be prompted to set up a Google account if you don't already have one.
For a tutorial on creating a map, select the “Help” tab at the top of the page. Then go to the “Google Maps User Guide” under “Getting Started.” Finally, select the “My Maps” tab. For a video tour, select “Maps Tour” on the left.
Print out the “My Maps” instructions for later reference. Referring to printed instructions is easier than going back and forth between screens if you forget key instructions.
After familiarizing yourself with how to create a map, return to the “My Maps” section of the Google Maps home page. Select “Create a new map” beneath the “My Maps” tab. You're off and running.
Before creating the map, decide whether you want the map to be public or unlisted, and select the appropriate tab. If the map is public, it can be seen by anybody who comes across it on the Web, most likely through a Google Maps search. If it is unlisted, the only people who will be able to view it are those to whom you have given the Web address.
To create your map, zoom in on your farm using control functions on the map. Once you have created your map, you, and only you, can modify or delete it.
To e-mail the Web address of the map you create, select the “Send” tab at the top of the map and complete the Google e-mail form. Another option is to select the “Link to this page” tab. Copy the Web address (url) for use in an e-mail from your own account. Those who receive the map won't be able to change it, unless, of course, you share your password.