Plant monitoring is now a little more real-time, thanks to ScoutLink, a professional consultant system with data collection and record-keeping software that uses handheld computers.

The program, field tested in 2001 and launched by Bayer CropScience in February 2002, is already in the hands of more than 150 consultants. The program complements the popular Cotman crop information system used for plant monitoring.

“With this program and a handheld (such as a Palm Pilot) I can map faster than I can scout,” says Roger Bowman, summer field development assistant with Bayer CropScience. “And it doesn't take a genius to use it.”

Cotman was developed at the University of Arkansas and is supported in part by Cotton Incorporated. Diana Danforth, UA senior research associate, said Cotman has been tested and used from Texas to Virginia since its availability in 1994.

“We have supported different handhelds, but we were excited when Bayer CropScience stepped in and offered to develop one for the Palm,” she said.

“ScoutLink is proprietary software developed for professional cotton consultants to help their grower customers,” said Jimmy Johnson, product manager for Bayer CropScience. “An important goal of Bayer CropScience is to provide innovative tools that help consultants with daily activities and meet future demands for stewarding agricultural products. To help growers, consultants must have time-saving tools, quick and clear communication, efficient record-keeping, precise recommendations and flexible data collection systems. ScoutLink does just that.”

Bowman said consultants and scouts use handhelds to collect data on pest populations and crop conditions, and they can use a global positioning system to log the latitude and longitude when a problem is spotted in a field.

The handheld unit is synced with a desktop or laptop computer. Once downloaded, the software generates a customized report. Information from that report can be measured under the Cotman system to make decisions such as when to terminate the crop.

“Time is the most precious commodity we have,” said Merritt Holman of Arkansas Crop Technologies in Lonoke, Ark. “We have always had problems translating information quickly and accurately to our farmers. But ScoutLink can enable us to help our customers make better decisions in the field, and thus make more money.”

ScoutLink is free to consultants who are members of a professional consultant organization.

While the launch of ScoutLink in 2002 was limited to cotton production, Bowman said Bayer CropScience plans to expand the software to other crops in 2003.