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Farmers have invested in technology for decades. Auto-steer, variable rate, biotechnology and other innovations were all quickly adopted by farms. But farms have not invested as heavily in Crop Management Software versus other technologies. Why not?

The real reason has little to do with farmers themselves. Until recently, Crop Management Software (CMS) couldn’t deliver significant value to farms because four critical foundational technologies were lacking:

  • Mobile networks to make software available outdoors across the whole farm
  • Smartphones to give everybody on team a powerful, easy-to-use computing devices
  • Broadband internet to allow any computer in office to access cloud applications without installing anything
  • Connected machinery to allow data to be pushed and pulled from the cab, irrigation equipment, etc.

These have finally come together and become reliable enough to support Crop Management Software (CMS). CMS supports team’s daily operations, monitors and optimizes field-level profitability, and manages inventories.

Granular has seen rapid adoption of CMS from farms of all sizes and in all geographies, even at a time when commodity prices are in a down cycle. So what’s so compelling? It essentially comes down to being able to get more done with less, and making better decisions for the farm’s profitability.

But CMS is a significant investment decision, one that requires resources, time, and team buy-in. Most farms use Microsoft Excel today to perform many of these functions, so upgrading to new software that costs thousands per year is a big deal. Successfully adopting CMS also requires the farm team to part with some old habits, to evolve the way they work together, and to believe that their data is very valuable.

Before buying CMS you should evaluate the product and the company that sells it carefully. No CMS product on the market is going to have every single feature you want today, but technology is evolving quickly. You should choose a CMS partner that you believe listens carefully to their customers and is expanding its product very quickly. Here are some of the questions you can ask when evaluating your CMS options:

  • Who owns your company?
  • Do I need an engineering degree to use this?
  • Who’s using this already?
  • How quickly do you update the product?
  • Who’s running the numbers?
  • Who’s available to help me?

Click the link to receive a Demo of our Crop Management Software.

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Granular was featured in a recent Wall Street Journal article about farmers profiting from data generated on their farms. I wanted to expand on the ideas explored in that article and Granular’s perspective on the applications for farm data. Before co-founding Granular, I was an executive at Nielsen, a $6 billion global company that sells data across a wide variety of industries. Nielsen collects and sells information on TV viewership (the famous “Nielsen Ratings”), grocery store purchases, website traffic, radio listenership and many, many other things. In my role at Nielsen, I learned a lot about how data can help certain industries operate more efficiently.

When I look at the opportunity for data in the agriculture industry, I see three main applications:
1. Data For Better Management Decisions
The best use of data from any individual farm is to help that same farm operate more profitably. Our goal at Granular is to make sure every customer measures their business accurately and uses their data to make better decisions, every day and every season. Furthermore, we believe the operational, financial and agronomic data that Granular captures is each farm’s intellectual property (IP), and one of its most valuable assets. The best farms in the business understand this already and are using Granular to share, protect, and enhance their IP.
2. Data to Learn from Peers
Farmers have historically shared experiences and learned from each other. This back-and-forth knowledge sharing has traditionally been done informally and, more recently, through structured farmer peer groups. By bringing together the best (most professional, growth-oriented) farms in North America on a common software platform, Granular is creating a technology-enabled peer group. Through the Granular software platform our customers are able to accurately and anonymously benchmark their performance against peer farms every day. Granular customers don’t have to wait for a winter meeting to learn from peers or travel somewhere else – they can do it every day from their office by comparing anonymized metrics collected in the software (e.g. What is the average number combine days needed to complete harvest?, or What’s the average price paid per bag of DKC43-46 this season?).
3. Data in Supply Chains
Granular is also helping its customers profit from sharing data off the farm and beyond the Granular peer network. Professional farms understand that access to capital and land is critical to their success and are using Granular to share timely, accurate and complete information with lenders and landlords. By providing a professional interface to access their data, Granular customers make their businesses more competitive (e.g. accessing land at the right price, getting better rates on operating lines). Over the longer term, Granular also sees an opportunity to license data to industry suppliers on an aggregated and anonymized basis (e.g. What is the Monsanto vs. Pioneer hybrid market share on 7,000-10,000 acre farms?). Granular is the only company in the industry that has committed to share the profits from this type of data licensing back with its customers.
Ultimately, nobody can fully predict how data and analytical tools will change farming in the future. However, it is important that farms choose technology partners that they trust to help them navigate this new landscape. Many ag technology companies are giving away their products for free (or at a very low price) today in the hope of discovering a viable business model in the future. This puts them at high risk of needing to do something bold with your data or sell their companies to input suppliers in order to survive. From day 1, it’s been my priority at Granular to make sure we have a business model that works – we build great farm management software and sell it to hundreds of leading farms at a fair and consistent price. We are excited about the future of farm data, but we will pursue those opportunities in very close coordination with our customers because ultimately it’s their data, and they are the foundation of our business.

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One of the biggest stories in agriculture in the last 5 to 10 years has been the development of variable rate technology (VRT) for planting and the potential economic gains that it enables.  An enormous amount of attention has been placed on both the hardware that allows variable placement of one or more hybrids and to the writing of VRT recommendations.

Programs focused on making seed recommendations often cost anywhere between $5 and $15 per acre for the prescriptions alone, suggesting that there must be a significant upside for the farmer using this kind of technology. But there are few discussions about the elephant in the room: the fact that what happens in the field is often very different from the plan.
“Fluid” is the word we hear most often to describe how plans change at the very last minute.  Riding in a planter that had just entered a field last spring, one of our product designers asked the operator, “Is this the right seed for this field?” His reply: “It is now!”
To make things worse, once the seed placement is changed on one field, there is a series of cascading effects. For example, if you had planned to put Seed A on Field 1 and Seed B on Field 2, but at the last minute put Seed A on Field 2, you are now probably going to have to change the plan for Field 1 also, since you are now short of Seed A. At this point, you may begin to wonder why you spend so much time carefully planning out varieties and rates in the first place. At Granular, where we work with some of the country’s best farms, we’ve seen that the actual seed placement is commonly different from the initial plan, often on as much as 40% to 60% of a grower’s acres.
Eventually you may also begin to wonder what you can do to increase your odds of getting the seed where it is supposed to go.  We’ve seen a few ways in which the right farm management software can help growers improve their ability to get the right seed on the right field.
1. Know your plan. This may be obvious, but the first step is to make sure your entire team knows what the plan is in the first place.  Having an up-to-date (to the minute!) planting plan that can be quickly viewed by every manager and operator via a smartphone or tablet is a basic best practice
2. Minimize false starts. Many “changes to the plan” originate because someone showed up to plant a field that wasn’t ready.  While you can’t eliminate this completely, using up-to-date weather information and “workability” models before you drive to the field will reduce how often you end up a field that is still too wet or cold to plant.
3. Manage changes to the plan. Due to the cascading effects mentioned above, an entire planting plan can fall apart after a few initial hiccups.  Using real-time tools that link as-applied records (what actually happened) to your seed inventory can allow you to react to changes in a way that minimizes the disruption to the rest of your planting plan.
While it seems that a lot of fundamental operational challenges are often ignored in the excitement about variety placement and VRT seeding, we are seeing that farm management software is enabling farmers to do a better job of managing their operational plans, and thus start to realize the benefits of the other technology investments they’ve been making on their farms.

Latest

How a Potato Grower Found 11% More Profit Using Granular

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