The first questions behind any FMS choice are what does the software offer, how good are the services it offers, and what level of functionality do those services offer.
Ultimately what farmers want to know before investing in a digital tool is what their ROI will be. But, because farmers' needs are specific to their operation, there is no one ROI equation applicable for all farms. This review would be a much easier task if that were so!
So, where do a farmer and their farm adviser even start when it comes to picking a digital tool? I emphasize starting with understanding and solving their biggest challenge.
Am I not getting the yields I should? Well let's dive into imagery and get a better idea of what’s going on. What are my options there? Maybe costs are getting out of hand, let's take a close look at our inputs. How and where can we save? Maybe I’m planning to take advantage of carbon credit offers and need detailed recordkeeping. What programs offer mobile reporting that my whole team can use to make record-keeping simple for everyone?
It all comes down to priorities. Each farmer will have their own. Below is a list and overview of the top services and functions in FMS.
Accounting software integration means the farm office can seamlessly work with their accountant come tax time.
Some FMS are primarily agronomic-based (like Climate FieldView) and don’t offer any office or financial functionality. It is not uncommon for farmers to match up a free (or nearly free) agronomic-only FMS program with another program that offers financial planning. Some programs include basic financial record-keeping, but no integration with accounting software (like Quickbooks).
Variable rate technology (VRT) has transformed agriculture since its beginnings in the 1980s and is the foundation of many of the software management platforms reviewed here. But VRT is a lot more than seed scripts these days.
Some FMS platforms include seed, fertility and nitrogen scripts plus a multi-layered map analysis looking at in-field yields based upon the scripts applied. Others offer basic seed prescription tools, or, in some cases, no VRT script functions at all. If VRT is integral to your operation, and you’re looking to expand the same level of precision to your fertility applications, make sure to select a program that supports fully integrated agronomic VRT.
Creating crop plans are foundational to the growing season and of course, the budget drives the plan. It’s hard to imagine an effective FMS without a core crop planning and budgeting feature.
But the level of functionality within crop planning and budgeting is varied. Is it simply a spring planning and then reconciling with final figures at the season’s end? Or, do you need real-time adjustments throughout the season?
Custom reporting lets farmers slice and dice their data any way they want it.
At the end of the day, farmers' instincts are usually right about what needs to be addressed, custom reporting lets them pull the figures and ground-truth their hunches. But, because every farmer has a different set of challenges to overcome, custom reporting is the tool that lets farmers customize their reports to their farms.
Field-level profitability has become a big deal with FMS because it wasn’t really possible without FMS.
Instead of just looking at the whole farm, or even by crop profitability, data analysis lets farmers drill down into each field and even zones within a field. While farmers are still just getting used to the idea of understanding their operational profitability on a field (and even zone!) level, field-level profitability is the FMS tool that many farmers may soon wonder how they ever farmed without it.
Once you have field-level profitability the next evolution is obviously real-time field-level profitability.
Real-time insights, per field, combining imagery, weather reports, soil and moisture sensors plus real-time financials give farmers the ability to target problems while they are happening and determine whether it will be more profitable to respond, or not. Real-time profitability takes the guesswork out of farming at the time it’s most useful -- when the crops are actually in the ground.
Grain inventory management is another big deal in FMS functionality.
Grain inventory programs can be as simple as tracking location, harvest in and loads out for remaining inventory, or managing bin capacity, sending reminder -ins and integrating market rallies to take best advantage of selling your crop for the most profit. In the insanity that is harvest, horror stories abound of loads lost and market opportunities missed. Grain inventory management keeps tabs on harvest so not a single bushel (or price point) is overlooked.
Input inventory management can make or break farm profitability.
Knowing your input inventory can help you ensure you have enough on hand for what you need this season plus avoids over-buying what you don’t need. Even better, a good handle on input inventory equals purchasing what you need for next year when specials are offered and prices are low.
A FMS program that doesn’t integrate easily and well with machine-generated data equals many hours of data input and ultimately, a frustrated farmer.
The best FMS programs integrate seamlessly with in-cab and equipment collected data.
Having a plan is one thing, but recording when and how the plan actually happens informs better decision making for next season.
Mobile recordkeeping functions as smart-phone enabled apps that allow farmers to easily and quickly store accurate records of harvests, herbicide and pesticide applications, planting schedules and other management practices. Expect this functionality to become more critical, as farmers pursue carbon credit programs.
Advances in satellite imagery are enabling an entire new level of precision farming, but not all satellite images are created equal.
Near-daily, high resolution satellite images when combined with directed scouting alert apps, create a real-time level of field response. However not all digital ag platforms with a satellite service offer that level of imagery service. Some have lower resolution images, taken much less frequently (2x a month). Those can still be helpful for keeping a historical record of the season’s crop growth, but don't enable real-time response or directed scouting reports.
Service and Functionality Table
|Company||Satellite Imagery||Variable Rate Recommendations||Field Level Profitability||Real-time Field Level Profitability||Mobile Recordkeeping||Input Iventory||Grain Inventory||Crop Planning & Budgeting||Machine Data Integration||Custom Reporting||Accounting Software Integration|