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Cinnamon Ridge Farm seeks out smartphone hacks for help on the farm

Kelli Boylen for Progressive Dairyman Published on 30 September 2016
Joan and John Maxwell

John and Joan Maxwell of Donahue, Iowa, operate Cinnamon Ridge Farm. They milk about 220 cows with robotics, operate 4,000 acres, make their own cheese on-site and host thousands of visitors annually.

For many of the things that need to be done around an operation of this scale, they have an app for it.

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The Maxwells have often embraced new technology as it has come along, but smartphone apps have really streamlined many things for them.

Their daughter, Amy, is the herd manager, and for about two years she has used the T4C Lely app to govern the robotic milkers. When there is an issue with the robots, a message is sent to her phone; the problem can often be remedied through the app rather than her having to go to the barn.

“This has given us the ability to go away more often as a family,” Joan says. “We definitely don’t ever want to have to give that up.”

Amy adds, “Lely made the app very easy to learn. It definitely saves me time because I do not need to go to the robots to make a simple change.”

Amy can also use the app to look for heats on the activity monitoring system while in the barn instead of the office, and access records such as which cows are up close to calving.

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All of the Maxwells have access to the farm’s approximately 30 video cameras through an app called QSee, so they can view the robotics as well when needed.

They can also pull up the cameras in the maternity pens to see how cows in labor are progressing, check activity in the barns and see who is in the retail store and parking lot.

“We use that app daily,” Joan says. “We use it when we are in the house, when we are off farm. Sometimes we use it for security, but mostly we use it for animal care.”

The cameras record so they can go back in time and check on things when needed.

John has traveled around the globe speaking about agriculture, and Joan often accompanies him. Their use of technology allows them to continue farm management even when away from home.

Joan said the uAttend app coupled with Quickbooks is very useful to her. She handles the payroll with direct deposit, and with this app she has even paid their dozen employees while she and John were in South Africa.

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Employees can clock in and out with a thumb print on a time clock or they use the app on their phones to clock in. The app keeps track of hours of their employees, including overtime and holiday pay. Employees can check their hours, and if someone forgets to punch in, Joan can enter it manually. Joan not only saves time by not having to add up employee hours, the app is more accurate as well.

“As an owner my time is very valuable; it’s a huge timesaver,” she says. She also noted the system is very accurate. “I recommend this, or a similar system, to anyone who is currently using a time clock.”

Joan does not just do payroll, she does the bookkeeping for the dairy, crops, retail sale cheese and beef in their on-site store and tours. She can use her phone with Quickbook Mobile and other apps to do the billing for tours and cheese sales (retail and wholesale), run credit cards in the store and numerous other small tasks, which all add up to efficiency.

“It would be really cumbersome for us to run our business without these apps and technology,” she says.

Some mobile apps allow the family to view information on their phone but not input data, and some things are still just quicker to do on a desktop computer.

Joan has two 27-inch monitors so she can have more than one program open at a time, which is very helpful when they are interfacing. “Many of the apps and programs we use work in tandem,” Joan says.

They use an app to track their TMR mixer, which Joan said is “a huge help as it keeps track of the feed inventories and we know what expenses are going out the door.” This Digistar Cab Control allows anyone with a smartphone to read the scalehead.

When they find out about an app that may help them with a task, or one that may be more useful than the one they are currently using, they give it a try. Sometimes that means duplicating data input for a while, but they find that investment of time to be worth it to get the program that is best for them in the end.

The Maxwells are currently using two systems in the fields. Using a USB port on the tractor, they use Encirca to view notes from their agronomist concerning the field they are working on, as well as notes they made in previous years. They can leave notes for their agronomist as well.

“Our agronomist pushes out prescriptions for our individual fields. We use a USB drive to do this currently; however, newer technology allows information to go to and from the monitors using the cloud,” Joan says. “We utilize Encirca to view our soil sample maps and fertilizer needs at this time.”

They also use Connected Farm from Farmworks to view information collected from in-cab displays, tablets and smartphones such as the rates of seeding and fertilizer.

John said his favorite app to use is Connected Farm, which is also used for notes from the agronomist, and it also has a metric converter that is useful during tours.

They do not have any tractors with new enough GPS systems to interface with the apps they are using, but they will be using that technology when they update equipment.

They use Dropbox as a way to retrieve files from any device anywhere, any time. “We can access whatever we need, from logs to financials whenever I need to; that has been very handy many times,” she says.

They also use TeamViewer to access other computers, such as paying bills with a tablet or phone by accessing financial programs on their main computer.

John also finds the camera app useful in documenting items such as weeds, repairs and other concerns.

Cinnamon Ridge expects a total of 6,000 people will visit this year, about double the number just three years ago. They started hosting tours in 1997 and since then have hosted numerous school groups and corporate tours, with visitors from more than 50 countries.

The Maxwells also use and share events on a calendar app to keep track of tours and personal events and the many other things going on with their family and farm. John and Joan have a second daughter, Miranda, who is a college student.

Their retail cheese sales in local stores and restaurants and their on-farm cheese store are also doing well. “It’s almost hard to keep up with the demand,” Joan says. They make about 125 pounds of cheese a week on-site, including cheese curds, block cheddar and Gouda.

None of the apps they are using have cost them any money; they are simply available with the equipment and software they already have. Their investment has only been the time to learn how to use them, and that has been time well spent, they say.  end mark

To learn more about Cinnamon Ridge Farm, visit their website Cinnamon Ridge Farms

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer from Waterville, Iowa.

PHOTO: Joan and John Maxwell of Donahue, Iowa, have embraced smartphone technology for help in running their 220-cow operation along with daughter, Amy. Photo provided by Joan Maxwell.

Words of Praise
“Cornbelt NAMA had a meeting and tour at Cinnamon Ridge suggested by one of our members. This farm has implemented such leading dairy robotics technology AND looked beyond their current business model implementing their cheese business plus more.

Their community support comes from their outreach into it – their stand-alone, honor-system store on the main road demonstrates that, along with the tours they provide to groups, including youth, local and international. We were honored to be able to experience their facilities.”

—Patty Kisner, Cornbelt National Agri-Marketing Association

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