How do you use software to help you run your farm ?

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Member for

7 years 9 months
Last seen: 06/05/2012 - 13:51
Joined: 02/25/2012 - 19:12

How do you use software to help you run your farm ?

Hello everyone.

I’m a professional software developer and I have a strong interest in the farming industry. I would like to create a new type of web based software for farmers, focused specifically on helping with farm management.

I would love to get a better idea on how you currently use software to help run your farm. I’m not a professional farmer and to be honest, I don’t know that much about how to run a farm.

If you have a minute, I’ve prepared a survey for volunteers to answer: http://bit.ly/xP8McV

I hope we can also get a discussion started on this thread.

Thanks in advance

Clement

Last seen: 03/08/2018 - 21:05
Joined: 10/20/2011 - 16:16

Hi Clement

Welcome to the forum.

Frankly, I think you're taking on a tiger by the tail. I've saw alot of farming software come and go back in NZ, some of it very powerful and sophisticated. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be enough money in either the sales or in ongoing paid support for them to endure, financial book keeping software perhaps been an exception.

Part of the problem I think is that the software presented was too complicated for the average farmer to use. Too often the programs tended to try and be all things to all people. These  can be intimidating to setup,and use, and cause frustration and results in a lack of ongoing use. I would suggest that if farming software needs desk help type assistance, then it has missed the mark. We need to remember, that most farmers spend much of their time and energy out on the farm, and office work is often restricted to just the essential money side of things, and also it is often it is the wife who looks after that side of things. I should add, that many of the features that made the software too complicated, were features asked for by farmers. I think as a software developer though, you have to ask yourself does an individual's request represent the majority of users actual requirements. Really, really hard territory to navigate I would think.

There are of course exceptions, with some farm operators able to make great use of sophisticated farming software. I'm sure there are many farmers out  there handling quite complicated programs with aplomb, especially with dedicated programs concerned with animal breeding and production,  and event recording, such as used in herd testing in the dairy industry, and in the pig and poultry meats industry. My suggestion would be to not get involved in this sort of programing, unless someone was prepared to pay you to big bucks to develop it!

The gap in the market place presently is for simple, straight forward farming software package where a farmer can record events of what happened to a given paddock, when, what the weather was like, how much rain fell, what price the ewes got at the local fair, how many bags of wheat were harvested of the back paddock, when the tractor is due for its next oil change and so on. In the olden days, I believe they called this a farming diary!  Forget about individual animal recording, or keep it very, vey simple, or at the least, have it only as an add on . A program that could bring up information by say, topic (eg the tractor), by paddock (eg paddock 27) or by date etc would be a useful start. Having the ability to create and name individual data fields would also be good. The program should be PC based with an ability to enter data in the field with a smart phone - lots of farms have these now. Cloud computing could work but is not essential and may be a hinderance to use in some localities with poor internet / mobile reception. ie A simple synchronising of data back home on the desk pc would be better than attempting direct linking with the cloud by mobile The cost of such software is a difficult one. Quite honestly, if it is too dear, you wont get takers. My suggestion would be to make something real simple to use along the lines I've suggested and have a minimal annual rental, say less than $15 per month, and try and get alot on board who will stick with you for years to come. A 1000 farmers at $180 year in, year out sounds good to me! Your software should include something along the lines of a google earth mapping utility that allows farmers to trace their paddocks and calculate the areas for sowing, fertiliser application rates etc. Forget about trying to have a maps where you can resize paddocks, move fences, move mobs etc etc,  to me this just complicates things. I'd rather call up a paddock number on a list, and drill down into it for getting or entering info or at most use an image map of a farm map to click into. In conclusion KISS! I'm convinced that's the secret.

I too would be happy to see what others think about this. Lets see if any of you have ideas out there and if you agree or  disagree with what I have to say.

 

Roger

 

Last seen: 12/26/2018 - 09:21
Joined: 05/31/2011 - 09:44

Hi Clement,

The vast majority of software that gets used on Australian farms is for accounting. A smaller percentage (top 5%) of farmers have and use software for farm management and herd recording. 

The main agricultural software provider is Practical Systems (best known for cashbook plus) who have been in business since the early 1990's and provide farmer's, accountants and bookkeepers with a number of programs.

In general I believe computer software is very powerful when it used to benefit the business. There have been lots of occasions where i have seen farmers with computer programs that don't get used to their capacity (because they are too complex) and therefore rarely provide the advertised business benefits. Where businesses are looking to benchmark and record livestock data (individual or herd) software is the only way to do it.

The other social aspect to consider is that the average age of Australian farmers is 56. There are a large number (not all) of farmers in this age group who have not grown up with computers, who don't want to learn and will never use them. With this in mind and knowing that in the next 5-10 years a large number of baby boomers will be retiring and their farms sold, there will be a generational change whether we like it or not. As corporates, cooperatives, large family businesses and institutional investors tap into this family farm market. Many of the computer programs that don't get a lot of uptake today will become standard practice for recording and reporting.

If you want any further thoughts drop me an email, [email protected]

Charlie

Last seen: 03/08/2018 - 21:05
Joined: 09/23/2011 - 16:27

Hi Clement,

I recently found a fairly specilaised situation where the avaiable software is inadequate. Actually it's more of a hardware/software opportunity.

I installed a Lacrosse weather station on the farm, which I visit only once or twice per month. I plan to develop anbd organic managemtnt plan and weather data will be a critical part of that.

Packaging of the weather station said that it would record 175 data sets, which I assumed was 175 days, so that would have given me ample opportrunity to download the data before new readings start to overwrite old ones. However, it turns out that it means 175 *hourly" data sets, which is one week.

So my very expernsive weather station is basically a waste of money.

I can't even connect an old laptop to server as a data logger because there's no power available. My only solution now is a solar powered laptop. You can see there's an opportunity for a low-powered, compatible data logger.  I guess the market for off-grid weather logging isn't that big, and the cost of developing small-production hardware is high :(

Probably easier to do a weather station from scratchj, using sensors from one of the popular kits (you can buy them at Bunnings). Needs a sunlight hours measurement, which the Lacrosse does not have. However, it does not need any of the "trend" data that most of the up-market stations have.


cheers

Colin

Last seen: 03/08/2018 - 21:05
Joined: 09/23/2011 - 16:27

Hi Clement and Colin

First Colin, I got a Davis Vantage pro weather startion for my farm. It uses wireless to send data back to a console.This console stores the data in 128k of memory. Here from the manual is what it can store:

Storage Capacity (the amount of time before the archive is completely filled):
    5 Minute Archive Interval . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 days
    30 Minute Archive Interval .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 days
    60 Minute Archive Interval .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106 days
    120 Minute Archive Interval   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213 days

Now to this forum as to what software I use.

The weather station updates are send by satellite to a web page so I can see the weather data from Sydney, 100's of km away. This also provides longer term storage.

Other software takes images of the animals on the farm to check that they are OK, again sending them to my webpage.

Animal data is stored on a simple database and I wrote software that creates PDF and HTML reports / printouts for all sorts of things.

Farm software is a complex field and as earlier posters have said most farmers dont have the time or bandwidth (until we all have the NBN) to use it. What ever you write will start simple and get bigger and more complex as you add more features and requests until its complex and daunting.

Sorry I'm pessimistic :-) I'd suggest to find a friend that is a farmer, write something for them, and see how it goes from there. Also consider a busines model based on open source software. Write a good extensible module based system that others can add to. If its sussessful and is used widely then make money off support and writing custom modules. 

Mike

Last seen: 05/27/2013 - 10:55
Joined: 03/12/2012 - 09:44

Hi Guys, new to the forum and this topic took my attention for obvious reasons.

As a knock about around the farms owned by a mate I was asked if I could create something to make the running of his farms easier because as a busy professional running hobby farms he just didn't have the time to do everything and he relied on myself and others to keep his farms running on weekdays while he was at work. 2 Years ago I started creating a system (I wont name it here because it's not my thread) which has changed a lot from it's inception and now records all manner things on the farm. My main reason for replying to this thread though is in reply to Roger's reply.

As you suggest Roger KISS is the best option however the downside of that is that while operations may be kept simple the potential for what's involved from a developers point of view can be quiet large, after all a program that can deliver information on every item of equipment could easily have 100 different items added to it on the average farm (we've got 80 pieces of equipment to track and we aren't by any means a huge farm). If each item them has sub categories or sections it can easily become a large system and that's barely describes much more than an inventory. By the time you add synchroisation, clouds and Google mapping (which even just reproducing a picture from their website "should' incur a fee) $15 a month is no where near viable.

Through testing over the last 2 years we found that using an online based system (secure) where the user pays a one off design fee then a monthly fee for it's upkeep, (amount of upkeep depends on package chosen) and they provide as much or as little information as they require has worked best. What started out as a simlpe aid to help a guy who owned multiple small farms and relied on a number of people to help him run them has now gorwn to a system that even full time farmers are using as an added tool to keep them in front of their maintenance and other daily duties. Some have even reported that their resale value of equipment due to the tracking is much higher than expected. 

But all that has to come at cost over $15 a month, it's just not viable otherwise, however we are still a lot cheaper than the $15K CMS systems that many farmers have told us are way too hard and time consuming for them and with our system we do much of the "paperwork" (for want of a better word) ourselves based on the information each client provides, and any updates we make are free to most clients.

Once again not trying to steal clements thunder here by advertising a product but there is a lot more to any "simple" system that most people can consider and even the simple "must haves" suggested don't come at bargain basement prices.

Regards

Farmed-Out

 

Edit: Re:katiepooch's response below, see new thread.

Last seen: 03/08/2018 - 21:05
Joined: 10/01/2011 - 10:46

Hey Farmed Out,

Could you start another thread and tell everyone what your software program is all about? I run a hobby farm and your previous post has me intrigued and interested. I didn't know that the software you talked about is even available?

Thanks,

Mary

Last seen: 03/08/2018 - 21:05
Joined: 10/20/2011 - 16:16

Hi Farmed-Out

Thanks for your input  and debate, you make some really good points and ones that I feel are indeed very relevant to this thread and you are certainly no hijacker!.

I totally agree that software that is simple to use is not simple to create, indeed, it is being able to produce something that is simple to use  that seperates good software developers from the not so good. I also appreciate that $15 / month may not be sufficient income stream to be able to produce something that delivers the goods, especially in a farming sector  market which is tiny compared to others. 

I want to introduce an argument to this thread that I believe is part of the problem of not been able to charge enough. I could be putting my neck out a bit too far in doing so but here goes!

The farming sector has had a rich history of subsidies  in the form of government funded agricultural science research, and government funded agricultural extension advisory services to farmers.  Farmers as business owners have come to expect their technical information to be provided either free or at highly subsidised rate. A very quick search of the internet for each of Australia's State agricultural departments / divisions  will show one an amazing array of very high quality, scientifically peer reviewed advice for almost every aspect of agriculture and horticulture and most of it absolutely, totally free! This includes some farming software some of which you are no doubt aware of. I defy you to find other business sectors that have similar 'step by step how to go about it type content' so freely available and that you could use with such confidence. Perhaps other than the car manufacturing industry (smile),  there are very few other business sectors that enjoy such wholesale levels of subsidization similar to the rural primary production sector.

The nett effect of this is that there is an expectation of cheap information within the farming sector, and because of this, good information has become cheapened. This in turn bids down the price farmers will (and can - see later)  pay for quality expert independant agricultural advice.  This is why the bulk of tertiary educated agricultural students now end up working for large agri companies, businesses that sell inputs to farmers (that have never been cheapened) and the expert advice gets paid for that way. The problem of course, is that the expert advice is not necessarily independent!  The employment stats speak for themselve on this one. 

Another effect of susidies is that it also bids down the returns farmers are willing to accept for products from a farm since they don't need to pay a high  price for I P (intellectual property). There's nothing new in any of this, it has been happening for decades and more, and it is what makes doing business in agriculture so different from other business sectors and also often more difficult. Most businesses outside of farming place a huge price on IP, be it in technical or human intellectual form, and accordingly look for a high returns in order to pay for it. Nevertheless, doing business with farmers has its benefits, they are invariably incredibly nice people to deal with.

Governement is (fortunately?) increasingly getting out of 'subsidising' farming, but it is nevertheless a slow and a highly charged political process. I suspect for example, many farmers who might read this post would not like what I'm saying one bit.

It will be very interesting to see what the future holds with farming subsidies in the form I've described. For example, in the forseeable future, farming will have a big role to play in carbon sequestration. Should farmers be subsidized to learn and implement this? If they do, will it cheapen the returns they expect and get?

My own experience with farming software, of which I have been involved with selling in past years, has led me to believe that for a  piece of substantial farming software, there is a price point resistance of  around the $200 / year point for annual  subscription software and of about $1000 for outright purchase price of the software. There will of couse be some  who will be willing to pay several times these amounts but will there be enough of them for a sustainable return to software developers?  Evidence over time suggests, other than for financial software, there's not.  It's a hard call.

Roger

Last seen: 11/08/2019 - 18:29
Joined: 11/08/2019 - 10:32

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