Our search for relevant workshop content for Vermont’s farm and forest sector led us straight to someone who may, at first, seem an unlikely Vermont digital economy pioneer. Heather Darby, Ph.D., has been teaching nutrient management at the University of Vermont Extension for over six years. She’s a soil quality expert who received her B.S. from the University of New Hampshire, her M.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her Ph.D. from Oregon State University.

Born and raised on a dairy farm in Alburgh, VT, Darby and her husband purchased her family farm from her parents in 2004. The Darby Farm has provided farm fresh products to Vermonters for over 200 years. Darby and her husband Ron Hermann are the seventh generation to operate this farm. Their 130 acre diversified farm produces a wide array of vegetables and fruit. So Darby gets to practice what she teaches.

For most of her career, Darby has focused on sustainable agriculture and the importance of farmers being good environmental stewards. Her classes are targeted at educating farmers about these principles and generally take place “on-farm”, to make education as convenient and relevant as possible for the farmer. Her field is called Nutrient Management and it is particularly relevant for dairy farmers. Through her teaching, Darby realized that there are several barriers that prevent the average Vermont dairy farmer from developing and maintaining an effective nutrient management plan.

“Most of Vermont’s farmers cannot afford to hire a consultant to create a nutrient management plan for their farms, and those with plans find it difficult to keep good enough records to execute and update the plans,” Darby said.

She thought there might be a way to deliver an easy system over the Internet, but many of the farms she visited did not have computers. On the other hand, nearly every farmer had a cell phone. That’s when she decided to seek out grant funding to develop mobile applications uniquely for Vermont farmers. The first such app, goCrop, is launching later this month, and will help farmers perform the record-keeping necessary to maintain a nutrient management plan. And, for those with a plan online, it will allow them to view and update their plan.

Darby describes the app this way:

goCrop is a web and mobile device application that helps livestock farms develop nutrient management plans for their operations. The web application is the planning tool that allows the farm to enter all of their fields, soil test data, crop production information, and planned manure and fertilizer applications. The mobile application is designed to be used in the field and aid the farmer in capturing real time records. The goal is to improve crop productivity while protecting the environment.”

This is just the first of many farming apps that Darby is developing. The Vermont Digital Economy Project team plans to stay in close contact with her so that we can include some of these applications in upcoming workshops targeted specifically to the agricultural sector.