In part one of our series we gave you a closer look at two cloud-based farm management systems – Conservis and Connected Farm. Here we share insights on two other products, FarmLogs and Granular.
FarmLogs CEO and co-founder Jesse Vollmar says large farmers can benefit from a cloud-based system to manage the layers of data needed to oversee all facets of every acre they farm.
“Scaling a farming operation has traditionally been difficult due to the large amounts of information needed to effectively manage thousands of acres,” he says. “For generations, decisions have primarily been based on farmer instinct and intuition, informed only by conditions they are personally able to witness in the field.
“With automated data collection and cloud-based farm management tools, farmers can now apply their instinct and intuition to a much larger number of acres. Critical operational information is instantly available, and tasks can be more efficiently scheduled.”
FarmLogs notes these features are key to its cloud-based services:
--More than five years of high resolution multi-spectral satellite imagery is used to automatically analyze crop health and pinpoint problems in the field.
--FarmLogs Flow hardware automatically collects yield data and creates yield maps while the combine is harvesting, without having to download or transfer files.
--Rain and heat accumulation for each field are provided without gauges or weather stations.
With data stored in FarmLogs, growers can save time reporting to their Farm Service Agency, crop insurance agents or lenders. “Field sharing allows for reporting without the need to print off forms,” Vollmar says. “Independent offerings that focus on the farmer and aren’t tied to another agricultural brand can provide unbiased answers to the farmer. Companies like FarmLogs that only focus on their software are able to continuously innovate and bring new solutions to market faster.”
There will forever be questions about security of data floating in the cloud. Vollmar says FarmLogs “uses the industry’s best practices for safely and securely storing private information.”
What’ll it cost? Vollmar says as with any good product or service, expect to pay a portion of the average added value the product creates.
“Generally, the value created by a cloud-based farm management system increases with the acres it adds value to, so a per-acre fee is typical,” he says. “For example, if a product can on average create $50 per acre of value, it would be reasonable to pay 20% of that [$10 per acre] and still see great returns on investment.
Mobility is essential in a cloud-based system to make it accessible from any device, any time and in any location, says Adam Litle, Granular vice president of business development and finance.
Litle, who leads Granular’s grain marketing and network connectivity features, says the ability to access all types of data from a smartphone, pad, computer or other mobile device will enhance the value of cloud-based data storage.
He adds, “The ability to scale is crucial. As a farm grows, so does its need for operational processes, data storage, external partners, etc. A cloud-based platform like Granular effectively scales up or down to mirror the farming operation.”
Granular integrates agronomic, operational and financial information into a cloud-based platform. “It connects all people and equipment on a farm and effortlessly tracks their work using a mobile app and a number of automatic equipment integrations from various manufacturers,” Litle says. “We help growers understand how much time, money and effort is involved in a major field operation, and provide recommendations through data analysis and benchmarking on how to be more efficient and productive.”
Litle says Granular can help ease the FSA and crop insurance reporting process. Data can help growers communicate more effectively with lenders on key financial metrics, helping expand access to capital and possibly lower financing costs.
“Growers can generate custom financial reports and plan and manage their crops, inputs and their labor more efficiently,” Litle says. “Our task-scheduling tool, based on crop production plans growers build at the beginning of the season, incorporates real-time field conditions, growth stage and grain moisture, without having to drive around the farm.”
Don’t sacrifice value for price. “There are several free cloud-based apps and systems, while others involve an annual fee,” he says. “We release updates to the software at least once per quarter, so growers should think about value, not just price.”
Since cloud-based management systems are fairly new, Litle says growers should view such systems as an investment. “Think about who will become the industry standard and how farm management software can make you a more effective operation,” he says. “What will this software package look like three years ahead and does that match the vision for your farm?”
Privacy is also a consideration. “Who owns, or has access to the data you generate?” asks Litle. “To what extent do you need something uniquely built for your operation? How much time are you able to invest to get set up? In Granular, administrative controls, data encryption and compliance to the strictest data security protocols are part of the platform’s development. Farmers don’t need to worry about investing in the physical security of their data and infrastructure.”
Ohio farmer Brian Watkins and partners Dale Jefferson and Mike Thompson have built a financial and production model that helps other farmers make better decisions. Cropzilla will help you "quickly and easily develop a comprehensive farm master plan on a field-by-field basis for the upcoming growing season," says Watkins, who farms with his brother near Kenton, OH.
The tool lets users build a digital model of each field on their grain farm using real world cost data like inputs, fuel and labor. The software's user-friendly interface lets you play with the data to determine true equipment ownership costs, or make better decisions on how to manage tasks if one variable, say weather, changes your plans.
The software looks at historical weather data in your area, factors in machine capacity, and gives you a financial analysis on how much money is on the table if planting season goes beyond optimal timing. You'll get an estimate of the time needed to complete each operation, based on equipment capacity, field location and lay-out, and your management approach. You'll see what the financial impact is if you make a new equipment purchase , change a practice such as splitting nitrogen applications or planting cover crops, add or reduce employees, change a crop mix, or rent additional acres.
"It gives you outcomes based on equipment size," says Watkins. "Should you buy a bigger planter or a second planter? It looks at capacity, how long it takes to do a task, and analyzes variables such as buying or leasing more capacity, or even what happens if you decide to change production practices.
"It is difficult for a farmer to really know the true cost of his machinery," says Watkins. "This lets you do those what-if scenarios that can help you make money."
One of the strengths of Cropzilla is high-touch, high-service, says Watkins. Initial setup includes farm visits to help you input data. An ongoing optional subscription includes updates and a 24-7 help call-in team to ensure customer satisfaction.
"We've patterned it after a phone app, in that it's cloud-based and backed up to the cloud," says Watkins. "However, it works on your PC and supports multiple devices and users. The user can access all reports offline, but it is sold as a subscription, so you need the internet to verify the subscription and edit farm plans."
For those users willing to share some anonymous data, Cropzilla will let you compare your farm's cost structure with other like-sized farms in a benchmarking program. You will be able to compare other farms’ approaches to equipment management using a consistent activity-based cost methodology.
Stalcup writes from Amarillo, Texas.