Use Ag Technology to Boost Your Bottom Line – Seven Ways to Evaluate Farm Management Software
November 30, 2018
If you take a moment to look in the rearview mirror, the evolution of modern agriculture is astounding. In 1960, one farmer fed 25.8 people, while today the average farmer is feeding more than 155.1 While ag technology can take a lot of the credit for advancing the industry, it’s still a space that can evoke confusion, frustration and sometimes even fear. It can also be overwhelming due to the influx of new players in the market and various types of digital solutions, along with constant product releases and company mergers.
But if we can learn anything from the past, it’s that ag will keep changing—and that technology and digital solutions will keep revolutionizing the way we farm. And so at some point the question becomes: how will you use ag software and technology to improve your operation?
Farm management software (FMS) is one digital tool that many operations are using—especially in these times of lower margins and commodity prices—to gain insight on where they can make small shifts to increase overall profitability. Understanding the numbers behind every acre can take the guesswork and emotion out of decision-making and optimize the resources you already have.
Real-time breakevens, on-demand report generation, and one place to understand both input and grain inventories can save significant hours and dollars. There’s no shortage of options in the space, though—and like any big purchase, before making an investment, it pays to do your homework. So, what should you be looking for?
What to Compare
There are a lot of digital providers in the market, and it’s easy to get lost in the options. Most farm management systems however are created with one goal in mind: to provide and analyze data to make informed, and therefore more profitable, decisions. But that’s where the commonground on FMS platforms ends. So if you’re going to make the investment, do your due diligence and make sure you’re taking a look at the following:
- Machine data integration: You’ve spent lots of time and money ensuring your equipment is capable of collecting data straight from the field, so make sure your FMS can integrate and sync with it. You’ll save data entry/transfer time and and make the most out of the investment you’ve already made.
- Inventory management: If you’re like most operations, you likely have a bevy of spreadsheets and scale tickets that hold the truth on how much inventory you have on hand— both in terms of grain and inputs. But how do you make sure you have the most recent version of the spreadsheet? Are you sure that every load has been entered? Save yourself the hours of trying to reconcile after the fact and give your operation one, real-time dashboard that can be used by anyone on the team.
- Mobile: The bottom line is that you’re not in front of a computer all day; you’re on the go, and your FMS should be too. Editing and adding data can’t wait until you’re out of the field or off the road—you need a system that can accomodate your fast-paced, changing operation both at your desk and in the palm of your hand.
- Field-level profitability: How do you know when you’ve reached the critical moment when the cost of an additional input application won’t equate to the yield you need to justify the expense? How do you confirm which leases to let go? Only making decisions via whole farm break-evens could be leaving opportunity on the table to best optimize the potential of every field.
- Real-time reporting: Need numbers for your banker, or just want to get a snapshot of where your operation is at? You need reports that you can trust and manipulate yourself when you need them. This can save you time with crop insurance, FSA and compliance checks too vs. trying to dig for the numbers you need.
- Service: The adoption of any new technology comes with at least some learning curve. But in order to truly realize the value of the software you choose, you need a team to help you get up and running and trouble-shoot any problems you run into. Take time to evaluate what kind of support and training are available to help you customize the software for your needs and leverage it to fit your operational goals.
- Stability and Pipeline for the Future: If you open any ag magazine or social feed, you’ll see new FMS players who can help you “turn the wealth of data from your farm into actionable insights.” The thing is, this is an incredibly complex thing to do. If the provider is new to the market, how much of a beta user are you willing to be as they work out the kinks in their software? And what can they share about their future product roadmap? Any ag tech company standing-still won’t be around for the long-haul— it takes resources and strategy to keep building for the future.
You can put in longer hours, but at some point it no longer becomes about physical time you invest in your operation, but about taking the data you’re already likely collecting and making it work for you. The farms of the future will know how to squeeze every last cent out of every acre profitability wise while also scrutinizing overall operational productivity and efficiency. No matter what management tool you choose, take advantage of the data your operation outputs and turn it into something you can make confident decisions with.