The Farm Management Software Buyer’s Guide: 10 Must-Ask Questions

August 5, 2019


1) Is my team willing to adopt new technology?
2) Is it truly Farm Management Software and how will it help me?
3) How does my data get into the system?
4) How can I use the data that I have entered?
5) Do I like using the software and is it easy-to-use?
6) How good is your Support?
7) How often is the software updated?
8) Is this solution scalable as my business grows?
9) How secure is my data?
10) Overall, what percentage of customers renew their contracts each year?


If you are like many business-minded growers across the country, you are considering Farm Management Software (FMS) to get the most out of your financial data and deeper visibility into the profitability drivers of your operation. FMS programs have come a long way from the glorified spreadsheets that previously crowded the space. As a result, many growers, particularly those tackling the complexity that comes with operating across more than 2,000 acres, are adopting FMS as a key part of their strategy to drive efficiency and maintain control over their growing operations.

We speak with hundreds of farmers each month across the United States and Canada who are at various stages of adopting software on their farms. Through those conversations, we’ve come up with 10 questions that the savviest buyers ask to determine if FMS is right for their farm, and if so, which FMS will best meet the needs of their operation.


First, Ask Yourself:

1) Is my team willing to adopt new technology?

If your farm is adopting FMS for the first time, change management will be required on your farm. This requires some honest reflection on yourself and your team. Is the desire to be more efficient, organized, and professional going to outweigh the growing pains of change? Think about other technology or practices you’ve adopted recently, whether that is variable rate seeding, using yield monitors in the cab, or satellite imagery to enhance scouting. How did you make that change happen on your farm? What kind of support and training will you need to make the upgrade to FMS successful? While the benefits of moving onto FMS are often worthwhile within the first year, do not underestimate the change management required to get the most value from your investment.


Then, Ask the Vendor:

2) Is it truly Farm Management Software and how will it help me?

With the proliferation of agriculture software out there, it is important to know exactly what each program is designed to help you accomplish on your farm. FMS is not financial accounting software like QuickBooks, nor is it an agronomic software tool. FMS is designed to give you visibility and control across your entire operation and will include these 6 key features:

  • Planning and budgeting
  • Record-keeping
  • Financial analysis, including: cost of production down to the field-level; comparing budget vs. actual as the season progresses
  • Task management for your crew
  • Input inventory management
  • Crop inventory management and grain marketing

Some programs focus solely on one or two of the aspects above. Others will include all of the elements above. Whichever FMS you choose, it is important to understand on your own operation the challenges that you are running up against that an FMS must address to be a worthwhile investment. If you are tracking your plans and subsequent records from each field with pen and paper, on a whiteboard, or across dozens of spreadsheets, it will be important that the FMS program you select includes easy record-keeping features. If you find yourself throughout the year wondering how profitable the year is going to be, then it would make sense to purchase an FMS with robust financial analysis capabilities. Selecting the right tool for the job is the first step to ensuring that FMS will be successful for your operation.


3) How does my data get into the system?

With any FMS, the old saying rings true: “you get out of it what you put into it.” This is true not only in terms of the effort, but also in terms of the data that flows into the system. If you don’t get any, or accurate, data in, you will likely not get value out. Before purchasing, be sure to understand what this data-in process will look like. The best FMS systems are flexible to match the unique workflows of your operation to ensure that the data that is entered reflects the reality of what is happening in the field.

The best FMS programs will have an accompanying mobile application that can help you easily enter data when you or your crew is out in the field. Beyond an easy-to-use mobile application, the best data is data that you don’t have to manually enter at all — meaning that integrations with equipment manufacturers can save time and improve data accuracy if it can flow directly from the monitors in the cab to the FMS.

Finally, while you are shopping for FMS, it will pay dividends later to be realistic and understand what will happen if you get behind in data entry. It doesn’t hurt to be proactive and ask if there is a team or additional services that will help get you caught up on data management if you do not have the time or get behind mid-season.


4) How can I use the data that I have entered?

Many farms are rightfully focused on the first step of “how do I get all of my data into one place?” when they think about FMS. However, the real strength of an FMS should extend beyond a one-stop-shop to store field records, invoices, and contracts.

The best FMS programs will provide flexible tools to analyze your data to generate not just interesting, but useful, insights that shape the decisions you make on your operation. Many growers who are embracing FMS are Excel masters and have spreadsheets that Bill Gates himself couldn’t have dreamed up. However, the power of FMS is that the analyses produced with your data are easier to generate, easier to understand for all the decision-makers on your team, and easier to reconcile for accuracy. Powerful analysis and reporting features will allow for stronger collaboration with lenders, landowners, and business partners.


5) Do I like using the software and is it easy-to-use?

If you are investing your time and money into a software, you want to be reasonably certain that you and others on your farm will be able to use the software. If you do not like the way a software is organized, or if it feels clunky or cumbersome, it’s not going to magically get easier once you buy.

Look at how the navigation bar of the web and mobile application are organized and ensure that they make sense and correlate to the activities in your operation. This is important so that you can easily find each tool in the program. One sophisticated buyer had a great litmus test to compare one FMS to another: ask how many clicks it takes to complete a simple workflow. For example, especially after the #NoPlant kind of year we’ve had, ask your vendors to walk through the simplest route to make a change across multiple fields when plans have had to change due to weather or taking Prevent Plant. The results will be revealing on how easy or difficult it will be to use each FMS daily for you and your team.

If the FMS has an accompanying mobile application (which is requisite if you plan to enter any data from the field), ensure that it is easy to quickly send and update work orders to mobile devices. Also be sure to check that mobile application is functional even if your cell service in the field is limited.


6) How good is your Support?

The agriculture industry is riddled with horror stories of software that is purchased and then the customer is left to “figure it out” themselves. You can probably guess that that is a recipe for disappointment and may be something that you have experienced first-hand. To evaluate if you are going to be doing business with a true partner, or a company that will leave you in the dust once the ink dries on your contract, be sure to get clear answers on the following:

Onboarding process: Any new FMS will require some degree of setup. Understanding how long this account setup process will take and what resources are provided while you are learning the program will be a good indicator if adopting FMS is possible midseason and how quickly you can expect to see value from your investment.

Ongoing support: This is one of the biggest differentiators across FMS today. Even if you are tech-savvy, get clarity from the FMS vendors on what ongoing support means at their company. This will save you a lot of frustration down the road when the enthusiasm of purchasing wanes and you need to execute on the work of getting data in, getting everyone on your team trained, and getting valuable reports out.

Before you invest your time or money into adopting a program, you should be certain that the FMS company you are doing business with is committed to ensuring your success with the software. In fact, the best FMS companies will have a dedicated person for your account (often called a Customer Success Manager) who will proactively and regularly work with your entire farm to make sure that you are getting full value out of the software.

In addition to this strategic help and oversight, it is also important to ask how quickly the FMS support team will answer any questions that come up and if anyone on your farm can contact the support team. Again, the most robust FMS companies will have a real, live human that can respond to any questions from your team in under 30 seconds. Gone are the days when you sit on a busy line only to speak to a robot; you should expect much, much more from support.

Other resources: Finally, beyond humans to support your account, the most robust FMS programs will offer additional resources for you and your team to continue to gain mastery of the FMS and get the most out of your investment, including: data entry and management services, live trainings, webinars and online trainings, and plenty of articles and videos.


7) How often is the software updated?

This question is often overlooked, yet is an important indicator for how durable the software will be in the long-run. No FMS is perfect, but a good FMS will be constantly improving with bug fixes at the minimum. A great FMS will also be making updates to be more user-friendly based on customer feedback, and launching new features altogether to make the whole package more valuable. If a software isn’t updated regularly, it can be an indication that either the team behind it isn’t listening to customer feedback or that the company is running out of money to invest into the product — either of those are not ideal when choosing an FMS for the long haul.


8) Is this solution scalable as my business grows?

If you are an operation that intends to grow over the next 5 years and beyond, it is important to ensure that your FMS will be able to handle the increasing complexity of a growing operation, including the ability to easily add new fields and users, analyze across different variables such as by landowner or by management practice, and easily compare and roll crop plans over from year-to-year. Think of a few scenarios that you foresee to be unique on your operation as you grow and ask your vendors how they would handle that complexity in the software today. Additionally, it is worthwhile to be clear on what pricing will look like today, as well as having a ballpark estimate of how the price will change as you add more users, acres, and services to support your account.


9) How secure is my data?

Most all FMS on the market are cloud-based, meaning that the data doesn’t live on any single computer. This has huge benefits in terms of being able to access your data from any device or location and not having to worry if your primary computer breaks down. However, you must do due diligence to ensure that your data is secure, private, and able to be permissioned appropriately. In terms of security, it is fair game to ask how your data is stored, whether that is on the company’s own servers (less secure) or using an encrypted cloud services platform (much more secure). In terms of privacy, ask each vendor for their privacy policy. Not only should they be willing and able to provide a privacy policy, there are certifications such as AgData Transparent that are verified by a third-party that ensure that the growers’ data will always belong to the grower.

Because FMS are often used by the whole team, it is important to know if the FMS you are considering has permissions built in. For example, check that the FMS you are considering will allow operators to enter invoices or field records yet only display sensitive financial data to you or your management team.


10) Overall, what percentage of customers renew their contracts each year?

Not enough farms ask this question! If you don’t ask any other question, this one will be the scorecard that takes into account all of the questions above. The number one indicator that an FMS company is oriented to see their customers succeed is how many customers choose to do business with them the following year. If the company you are considering has a track record where most customers are seeing enough value to sign up for another year, you can be reasonably certain that you are setting yourself up for success implementing FMS on your operation. A great FMS vendor should be able to connect you with existing customers so that you can get an honest opinion from another grower. Don’t be afraid to ask for references!


Get Answers to Your FMS Questions Now

Now that you are armed with these questions to make a confident and informed decision, get started today researching your options. Our team at Granular is happy to walk through a free consultation for Granular Business, the most popular FMS on the market. Contact us to get started.

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Jolene Brown, CSP, CPAE, October 16, 2019