Benefits of Digital Farm Records and the Cloud

Farmers often ask where the data is stored with our digital labor and product tracking systems. Many people guess, “In the Cloud?” with a tone of uncertainty. It’s hard to tell if the uncertainty stems from not trusting the Cloud or from not understanding what the Cloud really is. Google has the answer ready to go from when you type in the question, “What exactly is the cloud?”:

“In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer's hard drive. The cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet. ... The cloud is also not about having a dedicated network attached storage (NAS) hardware or server in residence.”

It’s understandable to feel unsure about the safety and integrity of your farm data when you can’t visualize where that information is stored. There is a feeling of comfort that comes from knowing your harvest records and payroll reports are filed away in that cabinet in your office. Software jargon doesn’t provide comfort when we’re talking about years of information critical to the successful operation of your farm. That is why it is an important question to ask a farm management software provider where the data is stored, whether the data is backed up, how frequently data is backed up, and how data can be recovered when something goes wrong.

However, I would like to emphasize the many benefits of using the Cloud. The PrecisionAg article, “5 Key Advantages of Digitizing Your Farm Records” does a nice job outlining positive outcomes of electronic record-keeping.

1. Improve collaboration between farm team

I recently spoke with a Florida berry grower using a labor data collection system that was state-of-the-art when purchased back in 1999. However, it has a huge limitation in that the data is only stored locally on the devices that go out to the fields. Harvest data must be pulled off manually from each scanner which makes it a challenge for this farm because fields are spread out with multiple farm offices. Collaboration requires that everybody has access to the information that they need to do their jobs. Cloud storage is key to providing the entire team a way to view, analyze, and generate reports from collected data, no matter where the office is located.

2. Provide Timely Decisions

Having the right data hinges on having it at the right time. The ability to push real-time information from the field during harvest can be key to making better decisions about processing and shipping capabilities. Having timely information can also greatly affect worker productivity. The faster you can catch an under-performing employee, or somebody trying to cheat, the quicker the issue can be resolved which can result in payroll savings. Running reports with the click of a button is “software magic” that your old filing cabinet just can’t do.

3. Have an Accurate Picture of Your Farm

Making year to year comparisons of yield per location, labor costs per crop variety, etc. is simple when the data is in one place and being collected and stored in a specific, consistent way. Comparing “apples to apples” has never been easier with electronic records! We’re excited to see how growers start using all of the data they’ve collected with our systems. This year, some customers will be going into their fourth season with their FairPick scales.

4. Improved Access to Information

With some outdated systems, it is too complicated for the foreman or crew boss to access pickers’ piecework counts in the field. Workers want this feedback. It’s important, and becoming even more critical, to be transparent with employees. With today’s software, the ability to pull up a summary screen for instant feedback could make all the difference between a content and disgruntled employee. We go one step further with our systems and ensure that our apps have the ability to print in-field receipts to prevent disputes that could cause your field and office staff a lot of grief come payday.

5. Saving Hours Back in Administration Time

Minimizing record-keeping tasks can be a huge labor savings. It could mean one fewer seasonal office staff member to hire at harvest, or your office crew can spend time performing higher-level tasks instead of mundane activities like counting punch cards at the end of the day--jobs that humans aren’t very good at after an already long day of work. With the potential of overtime pay coming into play in Ag, keeping days short will be important to minimize labor costs.

It is important to ask the right questions because your data needs to be secure and accessible. Don't let fear of the internet "cloud" your decision to digitize your farm.

Farm Software Increases Efficiency and Productivity, but at a Cost

After clicking through the slideshow in American Fruit Grower’s recent article, “Here Are the Top Mobile Apps for Ag in 2020 and Beyond.” I started to think about how many different software applications we use at 2nd Sight. Solidworks for designing parts, GitHub for software development, Adobe products for marketing material, Constant Contact for email marketing, QuickBooks for sales and accounting, Paychex for payroll, Microsoft 365 for email and Office products, Digital Ocean for data servers…. the list goes on. A sizable portion of our company’s expenses is dedicated to paying the fees to keep so many important processes of our business going. Monthly and annual software fees are part of the cost of running a business, including running a farm, in the 21st century.

Some of the types of apps included in the list for farmers include software for managing crop health and nutrition, soil sampling, pest and disease detection, field mapping, tracking equipment use, workflow analysis, weather monitoring, and yield estimation. All serve a purpose and aim to make farming more efficient, productive, and profitable. A new piece of software is often a tool to help reach goals which often include making somebody’s job easier, eliminating the job altogether, doing the job for less money, increasing efficiency, and providing information to make better, more profitable decisions. Economists will tell you that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. There is still a cost to making your operation more efficient and profitable. The benefits just need to outweigh the costs for software to make sense.

Sometimes it’s hard to put a value on something as intangible as software. We all complain (I do too) about the cost of a new iPhone. There’s not much to the hardware components, so why should I have to pay $1000 for a new phone every few years? It’s not about the hardware cost (other than more memory and improved camera, the iPhone itself hasn’t changed much). The cost is in the software. Creating good software takes quite a few people quite a bit of time. And as long as you want software that continuously improves, stays relevant, is supported, and provides you with the product support when you need it, there will always be a business behind the software that has employees on payroll and bills to pay.

Improved efficiency will have a cost. We must think about the tangible costs behind an intangible piece of software. However, that app should make your job easier, your operation more efficient, and help you achieve your long and short-term goals as a company. I’ll still complain about paying $65 every month for an email marketing software that I use every few weeks, but I know that it pays for itself every time we connect with a new customer.

Successful Precision Ag and Farm Tech Implementations Require a Solid Foundation

Adding a new coat of paint won’t prevent a dilapidated house from falling down. Implementing new precision ag technology will not prevent an already struggling farm from going under. Ag tech provides growers with new tools in order to become more efficient, optimizing the current processes in place. Good managerial skills, crop knowledge, financial know-how, and the right people on your team are all important components of a healthy operation that must be in place to build a solid foundation. A solid foundation is required to know which precision ag systems to purchase, how to best implement the new technology, and ensure that the results, or in many cases the data, are producing the desired outcome and making the farm more efficient and profitable.

At 2nd Sight, we’ve worked with 15-acre farms to 2,000-acre farms. The smoothest implementations are with farms that have a collaborative team, standard operating procedures already in place (and the employees are aware of these processes), management staff that can identify where the inefficiencies exist in the operation and understand that some processes might have to change, as well as have a clear goal for what our electronic labor tracking software or ag automation equipment will achieve. We’ve had customers who acknowledge that new tech is necessary to stay competitive but skipped a few steps. They bought the digital hourly and piecework tracking software before they bought a computer or installed a reliable internet network.

Over the last decade in the United States, the average farm size has grown, and the number of farms has decreased. The idea of an “economy of scale” can still hold true since a larger operation will typically have more capital to purchase state-of-the-art precision ag software, technology, and automation. However, the operation still must know how to maximize their financial resources. Good farm management still lies at the base of successful implementation of technology and is not always correlated to the total number of acres farmed. Therefore, our employee tracking software can make sense for both large and small farms.

There are a lot of exciting things happening in the specialty crop industry right now. However, my advice is to look inwards before looking outwards. Define clear goals (we’ve all heard of SMART goals, here’s a great video if you haven’t). Then, find the new tech tools that will help your farm reach those goals.