Our very own Mike Sproule was featured in the May/June edition of Farm Futures. Check out the article below!
New technology helps you track inventories, deliveries and costs – among other things
Does the seed delivered this spring match the numbers, quantity and price you booked last fall? Do you check fertilizer and chemical deliveries against your contract? Do you have a system that spots if you’re running short of seed, chemical or fertilizer? Is breaking out crop input use and costs something you can do with a few clicks on a computer — or does it take hours rummaging through receipts and notes?
As operations grow with multiple farms and hired labor, reconciling contracts with deliveries and monitoring inventory can get complicated. “Farmers may negotiate prices for inputs six months or a year ahead with dealers,” notes Eric Jackson, president of agricultural services for Conservis, a leading developer of farm management programs. “Later, invoices come in and someone pays the bill. But often there’s no reconciliation. There’s a high probability of slippage.”
Conservis has developed an input management program that applies the inventory control and cost analysis concepts used in manufacturing.
One of the keys Conservis used to make these concepts farm-friendly was to keep data on the Internet — commonly referred to as “in the cloud” — rather than on a farm computer. This opened the door for the use of mobile and other wireless devices to collect and upload data directly from the field.
The result is a system that uses little note taking, manual inputting or paper — and makes crop input inventory, cost and use information available almost instantly anywhere you’re in cell range or have an Internet connection.
Mike Sproule, a Grand Forks, N.D, farmer, used Conservis’ Inputs program last year to track crop inputs in his family’s farm operation. It was just the second year for the program, and Sproule was asked to tell the company anytime he saw where the firm could make the program more useful for him — something he did a lot.
Tracking all inputs
The Sproules grow corn, soybeans, wheat, sugarbeets and edible beans. Those crops use a lot of different inputs. “The Inputs program tracks anything we use on the farm — fertilizer, seed and chemicals — including the hybrid or variety, whether it came in bag or bulk, and its price,” says Sproule.
“When I buy an input, I create a contract in which I add the product, quantity and who I bought it from,” he adds. “Then as we apply inputs, the person making the application creates a ‘job’ in a mobile tablet. Drop-downs make the inputting fairly easy,” says Sproule.
The operator selects the field, puts in the acres, chooses the product to be applied and selects the rate. The program adds up the total of each input and calculates the cost of each along with the input cost for the field.
After all data has been entered, the operator can hit “send,” and all information is transmitted wirelessly to the Internet where it can be viewed almost instantly in the farm office. If you aren’t in range of a cell tower, the smartphone or tablet holds the information until it is in range of a tower, and then uploads automatically.
Sproule especially likes the program’s quick access to data and information filtering capability. “By using filters I can quickly see how much of a certain input I used in each field and for the whole farm,” says Sproule. “If I need to remember how much of a certain product I used the year before to place an order, that answer is just a few clicks away on my iPhone.”
He also finds the cost analysis part of the program particularly helpful. “The program will tell me how much money I have in each field — broken out by input,” says Sproule. “One field, for example, may yield 160 bushels per acre and another 155 bpa. Without cost figures by field, I might think I made the most from the field yielding 160 bpa. But my program may tell me the field yielding 155 bpa made the most profit because of that field’s lower input costs.”
Conservis sells its Inputs program as a service, charging customers by the acre. The company also sells Harvest, a program enabling farmers to track yields, inventories and deliveries directly from the field. Conservis provides on-farm training and continuous support to ensure farmers have a quick adoption rate and success in using it.