Zach Sheely is the fourth generation of his family to farm — and he admits that can be a daunting legacy.

His mother’s grandfather was a farmer-rancher, and 29-year-old Zach grew up in Lemoore, Calif., watching his father farm.

“I have always looked to Dad as a role model and have always had an interest in farming,” he says. “But, I’ve also been somewhat intimidated by him because he is so good at what he does,” said the 29-year-old.

The name Sheely is well-respected in both California and Arizona agriculture. His father, Ted, is a former Cotton Foundation/Farm Press High Cotton Award winner who has headed numerous agricultural organizations. Arizona Cotton Growers Association established an association Director of the Year award in honor of his late grandfather, Joe Sheely. Both his father and grandfather served as chairmen of Cotton Incorporated.

He worked summers on the farm while attending Westmont College at Santa Barbara pursuing a degree in biology. He also spent a summer working for the National Weather Service and was an intern on the USDA/NASA Ag 20/20 project, which was conducted largely on the family’s 10,000-acre farm.

The project studied the integration of remote sensing-based tools in precision agricultural management systems to increase production and efficiency and to improve job quality. He worked primarily on the development of variable rate Pix technology.

Although Ted Sheely has long embraced technology and computers on the farm, Zach’s generation, which grew up in the digital age, has made it more a function of lifestyle.

“When I became aware that my interest in computers could help on the farm, I became excited about being able to contribute,” says Zach.

“I wanted to use computer technology to make it easier for Dad and other farmers to farm. Farmers have so much to deal with, with regulations and other matters, and I wanted to help.”


Fastest-adopted technology

California agriculture long ago melded computers and farming/ranching, but Zach is taking it to a far more intuitive level, thanks to the touch screen technology of the Apple iPhone and iPad.

The New York Times predicts iPads and copycat tablet computers will be the fastest-adopted technology in the history of digital devices. Numbers back that up — iPad sales are projected to reach 28 million this year, and by 2012 more than 63 million.

There are an estimated 80,000 applications (“apps”) currently available, and more than 3 billion have been downloaded to
iPhone and iPads. More than 70,000 of those are games, books and entertainment; only about 8,000 are classified as “utilities.”

Agriculture is climbing aboard this digital informational bullet train, and Zach believes this is only the beginning of an agricultural apps explosion. He is one of those out front in the evolution, coupling the family farm, Az-Cal Management, and his passion for the digital information age.

With a computer programmer, an aerial imagery provider and an irrigation management company, he is developing a pictorial iPad and iPhone app that will not only provide information about what is happening on a farm and what needs to be done, but will connect a farm’s management team on a real-time basis.

It is called SiteToDo and will be available in May through Altamont Technologies LLC, Farmington, Calif. An amazingly simple spatial to-do application, Altamont says it will allow farmers to geo-tag tasks on a map on touch-screen iPads and
iPhones. Tasks can easily be reviewed, created and changed.

“We’ve already had many farmers agree to use the program and we will roll it out in May,” says Sheely.

“Many computers used in agriculture today aren’t very user friendly; they aren’t exactly intuitive.”