31 Jan 2014

First look at ReGen Nitrogen for farmers

Meeting with Kathy Craw (Marton-Manawatu farm)

ReGen Nitrogen is ready to be released and tested by you all. But while most of the initial work has been completed, we still have some questions, the answers to which will make the app an even better tool for farmers. Here are some of the questions we have in mind: 
  • Is this product we are developing intuitive and easy to use? 
  • Is all of the information to make an informed decision about nitrogen management readily available and understandable? 
  • What features are missing? 
The best way to get answers to these questions is to address them directly to farmers. So, last week we got on the road and went to visit Kathy Craw, a farmer in the Manawatu.

In the run up to our public release of Regen Nitrogen at the Waimumu Field-days on 12 February we want to test our application with farmers to ensure that what we have developed is both inviting and intuitive to use, as well as includes all the basic information farmers would expect when using a tool to manage nitrogen. We want to produce an application that enables farmers to make decisions on nitrogen management easily, confident in the knowledge that they are basing their decisions on the best available data, including environmental data specific to their farm.

For the past two to three months we have been building ReGen Nitrogen and have got what we believe is a useful and relevant application. We are now ready for the next step of the process to begin; user-tesing the application. 

Last week we called Kathy Craw and asked her if she would be keen to test our new app and give us some feedback. Kathy has been involved in dairying all her life. She was an advisor with Horizons Regional Council before deciding to return to dairying full- time. With her partner she has recently bought a small dairy farm near Marton. On Friday we visited her at her Manawatu farm to get the Regen Nitrogen management app reviewed and see how intuitive the Regen Nitrogen management app is to use.

ReGen N layout

We first showed Kathy screenshots of the Regen Nitrogen application and asked her to tell us how easy it was to use and what might be missing or confusing. Kathy was quite happy with the new app. She found it well laid out and easy to follow.

We particularly wanted Kathy’s views on the symbols we use in Regen Nitrogen for indicating whether the calculated N response rate and cost of dry matter values are good, average or poor. In the office we have tossed around all sorts of options over the past weeks with different designs of grass tufts (initially thought to be teeth!) and dollar signs flying around at regular intervals. Kathy’s views on these were useful. She noted that while the increasing size of the grass tuft symbols for higher N response rates was intuitive, the increasing number of dollar signs for a lower cost of dry matter per kilogram of nitrogen was a bit more confusing and open to interpretation. Over tea in Kathy’s kitchen we came up with an idea for another symbol that was not so easy to be misinterpreted, the thumbs up or down!

There are always questions to address

We also introduced Kathy to the calculator part of the app, as well as to the log page where you can save your calculations. Kathy had some useful feedback for us on making some of the input fields clearer, such as having the ability to enter the application rate in kg N as well as kg of fertiliser applied. Kathy also confirmed one of our initial thoughts which was to have a default application rate already entered into the calculator. Kathy pointed out to us that the cost of dry matter per kg of nitrogen fertiliser would be even more relevant if we included not only the cost of the fertiliser but also costs associated with cartage and spreading. We did not initially include these costs as we assessed the cost of fertiliser as being the key one to start with in version one. However we have taken this good advice on board and have included it in our list for improvements for future versions. Like Kathy, do you think the cost of cartage and spreading has a significant impact on the overall cost of fertiliser application? If so, what would you estimate the proportion of cartage and spreading to be on the overall cost of fertiliser application (10%, more? less?). Let us know by commenting on this post.

In speaking with Kathy, she also came up with a list of additional features that could be useful. For instance, she thought the idea of being able to forward forecast soil moisture and temperature would be very useful. She also thought being able to compare the cost of dry matter per kg nitrogen applied with other feed supplements and the ability to email the calculations you make on the app to yourself would be useful additional features.

Would you also value these additional features in future versions of the app? Can you think of other features that would be useful to include to ReGen Nitrogen? If so, feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section of this post.

Farmer perspectives - invaluable

Friday was a great day. We enjoyed meeting with Kathy because it gave a sense of how we can produce useful and engaging decision-making tools for farmers in a collaborative way. Introducing ReGen Nitrogen to Kathy helped us see where we need to make adjustments to make the app as user friendly as possible and also what additional features would be useful for future versions. Thanks to Kathy’s useful feedback, we are refining ReGen Nitrogen to make it even better. We have also taken notes on what could be implemented for future versions of Regen Nitrogen and will soon be planning what features will be implemented in the next version.


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