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Farm Management Software: A Buyer’s Guide

26 April 2019

Congratulations! You’ve taken the first important step towards improving the management of your farm. 

Farming today is more complex than ever, thanks to the ever-changing challenges posed by weather, regulations, commodity prices and consumers.

Modern farmers need to innovate like never before, and the adoption of time-saving, profit-increasing farm management software can’t be left to the tech-savvy. It’s becoming a must for any farmer who wants to thrive in the rapidly evolving world of agriculture.

Of course, every farm across Australia is different and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to farm management software. So, whether you’re a cattle breeder looking to save time on an LPA audit or a grain farmer trying to optimise fertiliser usage, this guide will explain:

We hope this guide helps you select the right farm management software tool for your business.

While a trusty notebook in the top pocket and PC-based spreadsheets have been farm management tools for decades, using them to manage your business is like using hand shears come shearing time. It might work, but there are many more affordable, more efficient and more effective solutions on the market.

You might be thinking to yourself, “More affordable? My top pocket notebook is free from Landmark or Elders…”

Traditional farmer notebooks

However, relying on notebooks or spreadsheets for record keeping could actually cost you money. While flexible, they have significant drawbacks as primary business management tools, such as:

Notebooks can get lost (or destroyed in the washing machine). That can mean the permanent loss of important records, such as lamb marking numbers or paddock withholding periods.

12-hour-plus days out on farm…records in your head…back at home after a long day. Ring any bells? It’s tricky to remember what happened 10 hours ago at the best of times, let alone when it’s over 40 degrees and you’ve finished a day out in the paddock.

Transferring records from a notebook to a spreadsheet at the end of a working day eats up time better spent planning for the business or relaxing with family.

It’s difficult to share information from your notebook with someone on the other side of the farm, let alone an advisor who lives hours away. At best you can email them what they need hours after they’ve requested it.

Nobody wants to get a “spreadsheet PhD” or spend hours building out new reports every time they want to look at something new; it’s time consuming and ultimately limited.

Ever tried pulling a grazing days report for your paddocks from a notebook? Instant access to visual data allows for quick critical decision-making.

It’s difficult to pass on the deep knowledge of a property if it’s only stored a farmer’s head and hundreds of old notebooks.

What is Farm Management Software

Farm management software is the range of apps, websites and computer programs built specifically for the farming sector. These tools help improve management practices, from simple discrete problems like a jobs list to more top level requirements, such as making long-term financial budgets.

The most worthwhile farm management software simplifies a farmer’s day-to-day operations, lessens frustrations and provides actionable, data-driven insights that lead to a more profitable and efficient business.

There’s a wide variety of farm management software tools available today and whatever enterprise you’re in or challenges you face, it’s likely there are tools that will suit your operation.

Whether you’re looking to spend more time with family, easily share data, obtain new insights into your business or simply make decisions a few percent more efficiently, the right farm management software can lend a hand.

How do I know if Farm Management Software is right for my business?

Taking the time to implement a new process in your business is always an important decision. People who run a farm as a hobby or side project might question whether they need farm management software. For larger operations, it is worth thinking about what reporting requirements are expected and who the relevant stakeholders are. Anyone selling their property down the track could find passing on historical farm performance records increases the sale price – with new satellite technology out of CSIRO beginning to provide valuation data for agricultural land, a few pretty pictures of a homestead won’t satisfy buyers anymore.

Below are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine whether a farm management software tool might be useful to you:

If you answered “Yes” to any of the above questions you’re in luck; there is a farm management software tool on the market today that can help you. 

What Are the Benefits of Farm Management Software?

The range of benefits to be gained from farm management software are as diverse as the range of farming operations in Australia.

Immediate benefits, like time-saving and audit compliance, are complemented by longer-term benefits like increased yield, reduced production costs and higher profit. You’ll discover the advantages gained by using farm management software only increase over time.

Significant improvements in crop yields due to precision agriculture have been discussed for years, with field monitoring and data management expected to add $125 billion in value to the cropping industry. Even in the livestock industry, where there has not been as much investment in software over the past twenty years, farmers are now seeing the benefits.

Farming for the Future

Jack O’Connor’s roots run deep in Oxton Park. Come next year, his family will have worked the land just outside of Harden, NSW, for a century. But it was half a world away, in the rich soils of Uganda, that the 26-year-old learnt some of his most valuable lessons in farming.

Read the full story

Jack O’Connor, whose family has worked Oxton Park station for nearly a century, discussed his family’s use of farm management software saying: 

“That all-important return on investment has been seen through the farm’s involvement with AgriWebb. We’ve been able to lower our cost of production because it’s made us more efficient as operators. When you’re working with resources as valuable as $500 a tonne, you want to make sure that resource is allocated as efficiently as possible.”

Benefits like this aren’t unique to Oxton Park. A report by CSIRO and MLA determined that digital technologies offered “a significant potential on-farm benefit ranging from gains of $14 to $118 in gross margin per hectare” in southern Australian livestock operations.

Of course, the needs of Australian farms vary widely. Technology won’t be used the same way on a large pastoral station in South Australia as it is in a dairy in Gippsland or a cotton farm on the Liverpool Plains.

You may have already identified the solution you want from farm management software but as you read on, you’ll discover upsides you hadn’t anticipated – if you choose the right farm management software.

I Don’t Have Time. How Long Until I Can See Benefits?

There is a common misconception that adopting a new software tool takes weeks. But modern companies are focussed on making this initial “onboarding” a smooth process. 

Everything from guided onboarding with the software provider to detailed online tutorials makes getting started simpler. Asking what help a company offers in this process is a critical question (and if the answer is “none”, run away quickly!). 

Since getting started with new software takes some time (hopefully measured in hours, not days), there’s a temptation to wait until holidays or the end of financial year, when records are in order, to implement it. In our opinion, that’s dead wrong. One of the first benefits you’ll see from farm management software is saving time, so the sooner you make the most of it, the better; within a year, a tool that saves ten minutes a day buys you more than a week of working days (or holidays)!

The best time to make an important change is, almost always, now.

What's Available?

Today the farm management software marketplace is booming, and companies are being forced to adapt and improve. Being spoiled for choice is something farmers should be excited about but it means doing a little more research to find the tool that’s right for you.
The new wave of farm management software tools boast offline usage, cloud backup and mobile apps, making them easier to use and more effective. Apps allow for powerful software to be run on a mobile phone, so it goes everywhere you do, simplifying data input and interpretation.

Starting Your Search

You’re off to a great start… you’re here doing your research!
Now use our quick list below to take your search from “problem identification” to “farm software acquired”.

  1. Identify your problem

    It sounds obvious but when looking at farm management software consider the problem you’re trying to solve. Is it something specific, like wanting up-to-the-minute weather notifications or needing to monitor soil moisture remotely? Or is it something more general, such as wanting to improve your farm record keeping or improve your full farm management?

    If you start with the problem you need to solve, finding the solution becomes much easier.

  2. Consult Google

    Start with a simple Google search on the problem you want to solve and the type of operation you are running. For instance:

    • record keeping sheep
    • variable spray data cropping
    • LPA audit
    • crop planning software
    • farm management software cattle.

  3. Ask Around

    Don’t forget you’re not the first person to look for a farm management software tool. AgriWebb, for instance, has more than 3000 farmers using its farm management software, while Agworld has an approximately 80% market share of agronomists. A neighbour, friend or farm advisor has likely used farm management software and can help you in your search.

  4. Start a Free Trial or Get a Demo

    Farm management software providers usually offer a free trial and/or a full demo of their product to ensure it works on your farm. Be clear on what you expect to learn from a free trial. Most are designed to show how the software solves an isolated problem or that it is a helpful tool that you can and will use (we’re well aware farmers don’t see themselves as IT experts). 14 or 30-day free trials – which are relatively standard trial periods – aren’t designed to deliver years of insights or lead to game-changing decisions. This will come over time, as you build up your data set. However, you should use this time to ask questions of the provider and determine if this software can ultimately solve the problem you set out to address.

A Few Must-Haves for Every Farm Management Software

Most farm management software has features you will use periodically or seasonally, as well as those you’ll actively use each and every day. You’ll know best what specific features you want in a tool; below are just a few that you should look out for in any farm management software – plus a few questions you can ask to ensure the software provider has your best interests in mind:

App or Desktop

While legacy software companies still provide farm management software you can only use on a desktop computer, all the latest software companies provide solutions via an app that can be downloaded on a mobile device. Be sure to check the “operating system” of the app. For example, does it work on iOS (i.e., for your iPhone/iPad), Android (i.e., your Samsung phone/tablet) or less utilised platforms such as Windows (i.e., your Windows Surface tablet).

Offline and Online Capabilities

Even if you have great mobile coverage (lucky you), services go down. You need software that operates when your phone or tablet device is offline, so you aren’t left jumping between new software and your old notebook.

Does your app or software work offline on my phone or tablet?

Ease of Use

This isn’t to say training isn’t required but if software takes an IT degree to understand, the company hasn’t done a good enough job, and you’re going to end up putting it down and not picking it up again.

Who can I speak to if I have questions?

Data privacy and ownership

Farm management software providers must ensure your data is both safe within the system and isn’t used in any capacity you don’t approve of. Ask the sales team or help staff what happens with users’ data. Any hesitation to explain their data management practices is a red flag.

Who owns the farm data I put into your software?

If I decide to stop using your software what happens to my data?

Are you able to sell my data?

Cloud Backup and Security

Cloud storage lets farmers access their data from anywhere an internet signal exists; in the near future it will allow for benchmarking at the press of a button. And rest assured, data stored in the cloud is “more secure than conventionally stored data,” according to Quentin Hardy, former Deputy Technology Editor of the New York Times.

How do you protect my data?

Real time data sharing

Don’t let “data sharing” put you off. This means the software allows immediate sharing of information across the farm, with people you choose. It’s important that farm management software supports multiple users: sharing stock moves or paddock sprays from user to user can eliminate confusion and increase productivity.

How is data shared between other users on my farm?

How can I share data to head office or a farm owner? (if applicable)

Deliver more value than it costs

Value to your farm comes in many different forms. The easiest to identify is how much money the software adds to your bottom line. However farmers often overlook how valuable their time is. Take record keeping, for instance. If a single farmer spends just 10 minutes a day dealing with farm records (writing, transferring, deciphering, etc.) they spend eight working days each year record keeping… First and foremost what would you do with more than a full week back in a given year? And secondly, if that farmer is paying themself $50/hour that is a “cost” of over $3000 in that year. Take that number up to 30 minutes a day dealing with records… that’s 22 full days in a year at a cost of over $9000.

Do you have any examples where your software has helped a farmer like me?

What is a key farm decision your software has made easier?

What value does your software typically deliver for customers?

Who owns the Farm Data?

The farmer should own their data.

If the price seems too good to be true or the software tool is “free”, check the T&Cs. Simply put, software costs millions of dollars to develop and millions more to maintain and improve. If a software provider never asks for payment (some provide free software at lower tiers and charge for advanced features), the company providing that tool is generating revenue in another way, often through the data it is collecting.

Subscription products make money through a monthly fee, which allows companies to ensure their customer’s data remains the property of that customer.

Data ownership is an important consideration when determining which farm management software you want to use, but don’t confuse this with “data hoarding.” Farm data is more valuable when shared with the right people – captured correctly and interpreted by the farmer and their trusted network it becomes powerful information.

Pricing

Pricing models for software have changed in recent years. Gone are the days when you would go to your local JB Hifi or OfficeWorks and buy a Microsoft Word CD-ROM. These days most worthwhile software is downloadable to a mobile device or accessed from any connected device via a web browser.

Company

Industry

Service Offered

Price/month

Xero

Accounting

Cloud accounting software

$230/month

Monday

Task management

Project management across the AgriWebb team

$193/month

Sprout Social

Social media

Scheduling social media posts

$210/month

Salesforce

CRM

Customer relationship aid/email manager

$6600/month

Google G Suite

Email

AgriWebb business email

$454/month

Most software companies have either monthly/yearly pricing (see above for a few tools we use at AgriWebb) or usage-based pricing. These models empower the customer and incentivise the companies building software to continually deliver value.

In the traditional model, a company can sell a “lifetime license”, make an immediate profit, and then forget the customer. Paying that upfront fee significantly increases the risk for the customer, as they are outlying all their money in one go.

Think about it like this: if building and selling software costs a company an average of $3000 per customer and you pay $150/month, the company is incentivised to prove its value. It needs you to continue subscribing for 20 months before it makes any profit! In the traditional model, a company could sell you a “lifetime license” for $5000, make an immediate profit, and then never have to worry about keeping you happy. If you stop using it in a year, they still keep their money.

A subscription model allows for a much lower initial cost (e.g., a monthly/annual fee), which means if it’s not working for you, you can drop it without taking a huge financial hit. It also means you can ensure the software provider makes regular updates and has support staff that can answer all your questions.

Subscription vs Lifetime pricing infograph showing the value curve

Usage-based pricing similarly means that you only pay based on the value that the software can deliver and the level of sophistication of your farming operation. This is prominent in data-based companies like Flurosat.
Some prominent ag software companies use a hybrid model where a subscription is based on estimated usage. This is the model employed by AgriDigital, one of the top commodity management software platforms.
So how much is too much to spend? Naturally that depends on your financial situation and the value provided.
A good farm management software tool should deliver far more value to you than is being charged. That value comes in many forms:

  • Saving you weeks of working time to put into your business or your family
  • Helping you make a decision that improves your productivity or bottom line
  • Helping you get compliant for a quality assurance scheme and receive a premium when you sell.

As pricing models may have changed over the years, the responsibility to deliver consistent value has shifted onto the software providers. You don’t need to be afraid to get started, as the benefits far outweigh the risks. And if they don’t, you can cancel and change to farm management software that delivers.

Subscription pricing

One-off Pricing

No upfront $ investment

Only pay once

Constant incentive to improve product

No incentive to improve product

Success staff? Definitely

Support staff

Regular software updates

Infrequent updates – often an extra charge

Monthly or yearly payments

 

Making the Switch

Once you’ve chosen your farm management software, there’s one more challenge: implementing it. Here are some pointers to help jump-start your transition from pencil and paper to your new farm management software, whatever size operation you’re running.

Single Operators

  • Pick a point in time and make the complete switch. Don’t bounce back and forth between the farm software and your notebook – it only create headaches down the track.
  • Ask questions! Your farm software provider should have a full success/support team dedicated to answering your questions. Make use of this resource.
  • Make the farm software a part of your daily routine.
  • In most cases, it is not advisable to use the software for purposes it is not intended for. Ask the provider if you are unsure.
Two to five staff on farm

Two to Five Software Users on Farm

  • Explain to everyone using the software why you are using it. If they understand the problems you are trying to solve, they will be more likely to buy in.
  • Ensure everyone, and we mean everyone, has proper training on the new farm software before you expect them to make it part of their daily routine.
  • Ask questions! Your farm software provider should have a full success/support team dedicated to answering your questions. Make use of this resource.
  • Ensure everyone is aware of how they are meant to use the software.

Corporate Structured Farms

  • Understand the services and support offered, both when you’re getting set up and into the future. For example, does the vendor offer account management services or bespoke training? In larger organisations, change management is critical to the success of software implementation, its ongoing adoption and, ultimately, to successfully solving the problems you wanted to tackle in the first place.
  • Explain to everyone using the software why you are using it. If they understand the problems you are trying to solve, they will be more likely to buy in.
  • Ensure everyone knows what portion of the software they are responsible for and what it is meant to accomplish for them.
  • Determine how information is going to flow from the operator of the farm software up to head office or down to those that need the farm information.

A few examples

Here are three farmers using farm management software to improve their three businesses.

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Lachlan Seears of Boonderoo Pastoral said it plain and simple: “Switching over from pencil and paper not only saves time, but also offers far more precision.” Now, Lachie “would be devastated” without mob movement tracking. See how Lachie uses AgriWebb to manage a mixed operation of 1000-plus cattle and 5000-plus sheep, along with wheat, barley, and broad beans.

Read the full story

Steve McVeigh, of Dalby Rural and Mcveigh Ag, decided it was necessary to update his paper-based administration so he could have critical information for the two geographically separated properties at all times. See how Agworld helps these two businesses find share efficiency.

Read the full story

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Michael Cobiac is a third generation farmer on 600 hectares, and he does not use most phone apps and computer software. But Michael keeps all of his farm records on AgriWebb. He knows, “Farm software gives us a much better ability to monitor our performance and make sure that we are as productive or as profitable as possible.”

Read the full story

There are many more success stories that show how farmers use farm management software to their advantage.

Questions?

The above is intended as a simple guide to choosing the best farm management software for your operation. It is the combined result of hundreds of hours we’ve spent talking to producers (many of them customers) and other industry professionals. We hope it helps make your decision a little bit easier or at the very least has shed some light on farm management software and its current state in Australia.

Deciding to make the shift from pen and paper to a farm software program isn’t always easy. If you want to find out if AgriWebb could be the right fit for you, contact our Farm Success team or start a free trial. Like we said: the best time to make an important change is, almost always, now.