By Jaime Vos, AEM Safety Materials Manager  

A survey taken by Farm Journal Media reports that 87 percent of farmers will own a smartphone by 2016. I’ll admit, that number caught me by surprise.

Most of my focus lately has been on the construction industry and its use of technology as it relates to safety training. It didn’t occur to me that farmers would be so fast to adopt mobile devices, too. It makes sense though. Farmers use sophisticated technology on their equipment, and now have time while in their cabs to access data - so why wouldn’t they use smartphones and tablets to do that?

Most of the smartphone apps the Farm Journal article references deal with weather, livestock, crops and commodities. But it got me thinking: When it comes to mobile tech on the farm, what about safety content? Wouldn’t an app that featured safety best-practices for equipment operations be just as valuable?

Most manufacturers provide apps for the equipment they sell, however, many of those deal with asset management, maintenance and operations. And while equipment manufacturers always provide safety materials with every machine they produce, most of that literature has traditionally existed in printed form. Within the last few years, much of that same content is now provided on the manufacturer’s website. If it's there, does it exist as a downloadable app, or is it web-based? If it is web-based, is it mobile-friendly?

And then there’s the question about millennials, whom we expect to be taking over the farms, skipping a generation. Our industry needs to be marketing to and communicating with the millennials on their terms. It would seem fairly safe to say that the millennial farmer entering the Ag industry would expect to access safety information, as all other information, on a mobile device.

Many other questions arise when considering the specific type of mobile user who works on a farm. Unlike the construction industry where new employees must be trained, operators of traditional family farms have typically grown up working the equipment. Does that mean they couldn’t benefit from safety messaging delivered through their phone?

And what about contract farm employees? Are immigrant workers adequately trained in equipment operations such as skid steers or even grain bins? Is safety content available to these workers through mobile devices, or is it provided to them in printed form? Does the content need to be provided in more than one language, and does technology delivery of that content make that easier? Ag equipment safety training is probably still conducted on the job or online, but might providing safety content through a mobile device enhance protection for the worker, the employer or the manufacturer?

As you can see, there are more questions than answers at this point. I think everyone would agree that information regarding safe operation of Ag equipment should be accessible through technology in some way. We see evidence of business data being leveraged in powerful ways when accessed through smartphones and tablets. Does the future of equipment manuals, training materials and other types of safety content also lie in mobile delivery? 

Only time will tell. The only certainty is that technology will continue to advance, evolve and disrupt the way we access information - regardless of the industry.