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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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2016 is here, and with the new year comes a whole new set of financial, operational and agronomic decisions to be made for the next growing season. With the economic environment expected to continue to be tough, 2016 also seems to be the year when farmers will truly begin to look at their farm’s data as a way to make better business decisions, get a tighter grip on their margins, and build a competitive advantage with Farm Management Software.

This is where all the talk about Farm Management Software (FMS) comes in. There are countless options for investing your limited time and resources in technology, but before you jump into evaluating features, price, and other product-related aspects, make sure you have the right mindset. In our experience, successful implementation and use of FMS comes when farmers exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Have an ability to recognize and act on opportunities, even during hardship. Growth historically happens during challenging times. Farm management software can help you manage more acres as you expand, but recognizing this means having a longer term perspective on the future of the farm business and making an investment for the future.
  • Be open to change. FMS should transform how your farm operates, for the better. But transformation implies a willingness to do things differently. You may have relied on paper work orders for generations, and implementing FMS may require you to apply that same discipline to using a mobile app instead. While good FMS should be highly customizable and reflect your particular farm’s workflow, you will inevitably have to change your processes to get the most out of these tools.
  • Even if you’re the one writing the check, recognize that it’s a team decision. You may be the one evaluating options and deciding to implement new software, but if everyone on your team isn’t bought in and committed (see point above), you won’t be utilizing the software to its full potential. Include your ops manager, bookkeeper, and operators in your decision making process.
  • Believe in shared information.   With good FMS, everyone on the team will have access to the information they need to do their jobs in the field and in the office (this is what makes the operation work more efficiently). Not everyone is okay with this – some farmers still want to control the flow of information and decide who should know what, and when.
  • Measure ROI in your own terms. Every farmer we speak with wants to understand what is the ROI for FMS. There is not a single answer to this question: operational efficiency, better understanding of where profits come from, talent attraction and retention, succession planning, etc. are all benefits from FMS (and some are easy to quantify, some are not). Know what you are looking for in the short, medium and longer term.

Implementing Farm Management Software on your farm is an investment, and like any good investment it may take a bit of time to get full value. But the sooner you start, the sooner you will reach your goals.

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Historically, debates about intellectual property (IP) on the farm have centered around the use and licensing of genetic traits, and the companies that own them.  New ag hardware and software tools have quickly expanded the concept the IP on a farm. Sensor technology, equipment-based data, and farm management software are creating a whole new class of agricultural IP: data and knowledge regarding the farm itself.

In other industries, this is nothing new.  Intellectual property, which typically includes trade secrets, custom processes, patents, and trademarks, has always been regarded as an intangible asset that adds real value to a business, even in industries that are considered commoditized. The value of IP can often be hard to measure, but it can be conceptually thought of as value above and beyond the “hard assets” of a business.  For example, if you sold your farm and the purchase price was simply the sum of the value of your hard assets (land, equipment, buildings, etc.), then clearly no value is being placed on the IP generated by the operation.  When I ask farmers about how they think of the value of their business, they almost always still think of it as the “sum of the parts,” with parts being something you can touch, feel, and see.
Figure 1 (2)
What is keeping farmers from doubling the value of their businesses through IP?  Building business value through IP requires an investment, and farms (even large, professional farms) have historically invested very little into the right tools that would help them develop, document, and share their IP.  Figure 2 below shows how much some comparable industries spend annually on IT, a good proxy for the tools that allow business managers to create and capture IP, as a fraction of their total revenue.  To put these numbers in perspective, spending 1.5% of revenue on IT for a farm growing commercial corn ($4/ bushel and 200 bu/acre) equates to spending $12 per acre – a number that would make most farmers laugh.
Figure 2 (2)
While some farms are investing in these areas, it is not yet the norm.  As more data continues to stream off the farm, those that can capture it, analyze it, and make these learnings proprietary will use their labor more productively, utilize their equipment more efficiently, and make more data-driven decisions (a topic at the heart of Danny Klinefelter’s Principles for Effective Farms).  A robust IT system has the potential to directly increase profit via lower input costs, lower borrowing costs, and higher revenue from more effective crop marketing plans, building real value in a business in an increasingly competitive industry.
 

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Latest release adds machine data and field-level

SAN FRANCISCO – May 13, 2015 – Granular, a leading agriculture software and analytics company, announced today another major extension to the capabilities of its industry-leading farm management and analytics platform. The company has a team of more than 50 software developers and designers working to continually improve and extend the functionality of the platform based on direct feedback from several dozen of its large, professional producer customers. Granular’s latest release includes the capability to import and analyze as-applied files (starting with John Deere and Precision Planting equipment) and to monitor Profit and Loss (P&L) statements at the field level.

“I have never seen a company in the agriculture industry that can develop great software as fast as Granular,” said Mark Bryant, partner of Bryant Agricultural Enterprises in Ohio and a Granular customer. “The team really knows how to listen carefully to its producer customers and build a product that supports the complex workflow on a large farm.”
Granular’s latest round of enhancements focuses on the analysis of as-applied files and field-level profitability. The ability to ingest, process and analyze as-applied files off farm equipment allows Granular to build a complete electronic production record on each field with full detail on all inputs, labor and machine costs for each completed task. As-applied file analysis also allows Granular to understand sub-field level variation in costs, yields and efficiencies.
“The reason I run Granular on my farm is so that I can understand and improve profitability at the enterprise, crop and field levels,” said Matt Smith, partner of Smith Farms in Arkansas and a Granular customer. “Particularly in this challenging commodity price environment, I want to manage every dollar and, just last week, Granular helped me find a five-figure billing error from one of my suppliers.”
“Granular serves professional, expansion-oriented producers,” said Sid Gorham, Granular’s co-founder and CEO. “These producers view this downturn as an opportunity to expand to farm more acres and Granular is helping them build their businesses on a solid foundation.”

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Jeremy Jack and Dr. Trey Koger from Silent Shade Planting Company talk about the goals, challenges, and what’s next for the successful 8,500 acre operation in the heart of the Mississippi delta. We are lucky and excited to work with them. Learn more about their farm here.
 

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Kip Tom discusses a new approach for proficiency, profitability and long-term success.
Tom Farms has existed for more than 175 plus years. The technology and business of farming has changed dramatically over those years. When I think about the next 175 years for Tom Farms, the one thing I know for sure is that the pace of change is going to be even faster. To be successful, we will need to react to changes in markets quickly, learn technology fast and use data to improve our efficiency and decisions. In fact, the single most important advantage for any farm business is becoming its ability to “learn fast.”
With this in mind, it’s critical for our industry to take an honest look at how much we learn every year in the forty chances we have in a lifetime as a farmer, how we manage information and how we make decisions. Historically, farming has been a “learn from your dad” and “learn by doing” industry, which is good, but we need to increase the velocity of learning and change. Even the best run farms don’t spend enough time understanding what works and what doesn’t every year. Many important decisions get made with intuition, not data. Most of our institutional knowledge lives in people’s heads and in Excel worksheets.
We can do much better. We need to bring the intuitive nature that we’ve learned over time out of our heads and into a system that translates it quickly for the next generation. Other industries have successfully used software to get control of their data, improve their efficiency and make better decisions. It has been difficult for farms to use software because most of our critical production activity and decisions happen outside and away from the office computer. However, advances in cloud computing, mobile phones and big data analytics have made it possible for the whole farm team to access super powerful capabilities right from their smart phones.
Some of you may be familiar with farm management software, but farm decision systems take the value much further. They not only empower us to better manage our farms, but to also take the data – that has been sitting dormant in our office, on our fields, or in isolated software – and transform it into a valuable resource that allows us to make better decisions that dramatically improve our businesses.
Tom Farms is one of a growing group of enterprise-level farms that has adopted Granular’s farm decision system. Granular is a San Francisco company backed by Google that has assembled a top team of software developers, designers and data scientists. They are focused on serving large, enterprise-level growers and are building a sales and support team in all the major farming states. Granular is rapidly adding new capabilities to its software and aims to support all the key operational, agronomic and financial processes on the farm.
We ran Granular’s farm decision systems for the entire 2014 crop season and found that it made our business more professional, more efficient and smarter. Some of the key benefits we experienced were:

  • We used Granular instead of Excel for many things this year. It is much faster, easier to use and less error prone.
  • Rather than going back and forth between multiple software systems, Granular gives us one system to collect, organize and analyze our data.
  • Granular allowed everyone on our team to see what was happening on the farm in real time from any device.
  • Granular allowed our whole team to work from the same production schedule and list of tasks. Sending work orders to mobile phones replaced dozens of phone calls, texts and emails every day. It even allowed us to connect when some of us were away from the farm.
  • Granular’s smart scheduling tool estimates field conditions, growth stage and grain moisture. This allowed us to set the order of field operations without having to drive around the farm
  • Granular helped us better understand how long it took us to complete each major field operation and highlighted ways we could get more work done faster.
  • As we roll into the 2015 cycle, Granular gives us all our 2014 results – agronomic, operational, financial – right where we need them to make key crop planning and budgeting decisions.

Like any new technology, it took some time to adapt our workflow to Granular’s farm decision system. But, very quickly we saw our team operating more efficiently, more collaboratively, more informed and with fewer fire drills by running the business on Granular. And, I am confident that Granular is setting Tom Farms up to learn faster, make better decisions and quickly adapt to what the future has in store for us.

About the Author

Kip Tom is the Managing Member of Tom Farms LLC and the President of CereServ Inc. In addition to being active in Agri-Business operations in Indiana for the past 39 years, Kip has also served as a crop production consultant to various companies in Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Today Kip leads finance, strategy and production operations for Tom Farms and CereServ in the U.S. and Argentina.

About Granular

Granular is a breakthrough software and analytics platform designed specifically for the professional farm. After launching commercially in July 2014, Granular is being adopted by producers nationwide who are investing to make their businesses more professional, efficient, and profitable. Granular helps these producers organize their operational, financial, and agronomic data into one system and use it to make better decisions. Granular is backed by leading venture investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, and Khosla Ventures.

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  |  
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Karl Wozniak, Role
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Karl Wozniak, Role
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September 11, 2017

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