HAVE you ever stood back at the enormous milk section in a Coles or Woolworths and thought ‘woah, where do I start’? Well, imagine if you had never tasted milk. You front up to the fridges and become overwhelmed with the labels, colours, brands and claims all over the place.
The same experience could be said for looking at the spectrum of Australian based farm management software programs now available to producers. And that’s without opening pandora’s box and looking at the US based ones too.
The Farm Management software marketplace in Australia is busy, competitive and confusing, and there is no doubt that a lot of consolidation will come as the market matures. Current product claims include “easy to use”, “increases efficiency”, “saves time”, “decision support” and “a practical tool”. My God! Anyone would think the silver bullet has arrived, just shut up and take my money!
Phoenix, Maia Grazing, Sapien Technology, iPaddock, Agworld, Agriwebb, Farmware, Practical Systems and a newy, Mobble are a few of many which are hacking at ways to get into your pocket, on farm and across your operation.
Most of their websites are best practice, with image-rich designs and pricing models common in SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms. Others take you back in time to about 2003 when you had to read, squint at the screen, fight non-intuitive menu navigation and read some more; dusty, dated sites and designs that are the digital equivalent of stubbing your toe.
So, we thought we’d take you over a few of the key features that split, separate and create the spectrum of options that these companies live on.
The first (and it’s my favourite) is individual animal management. Yes, that’s right. On some farms, regions and operations, farmers track the individual performance of each animal. Like any business chasing the fruits of efficiency, inventory management is super important.
Ask a Manager at Maccas or a Floor Manager at Myer, and they’ll tell you what items sell the most, and which ones make them the most money. So why wouldn’t you run a farm like that? Why would you breed from a ewe that produces poor cutters, poor lambs or no lamb at all? Why would you breed from a cow whose progeny sits in the bottom percentile of the breed average for 400 day weight gain? Replacing that grass eating unit with one that performs is all profit.
The next, and probably the most popular feature across most of the services is the farm map and record keeping functions.
It’s an oldie, but a goodie. You can map out the boundaries, carve up paddocks, drag mobs from one to another, see how long they’ve been in there for and enter spray or fertiliser applications to each paddock. You can also report animal and crop treatments plus on-farm storage, bulk inventory management and stock on hand. Most of them sync to the cloud (when you’re connected) and store that information for good, and with multiple users and logins, you can go back and see who moved what mob when and from where.
Some features aren’t as exciting, but are increasingly necessary. Biosecurity is the perfect example. It’s another thing farmers need to manage, especially those with animals. Farmers need to manage their own biosecurity programs and or manage existing autidable programs with third parties. Think Johnes. AgriWebb is one of a few which has spun up a platform by pulling in resources from across various sources to give you a dedicated biosecurity function to plan, manage, monitor and audit your biosecurity requirements .
For our cockies online right now, the cropping farm management market is a little more condensed, but well developed. iPaddock is owned and was developed by a real farmer. Mic and Marnie crop around 10,000 hectares in WA and built an app that focuses on spraying and yield forecasting. The spraying app includes handy basics like mix ratios of chemical for your own tanks, through to saving some of your trusted brews. And their seasonal yield forecasting tooling can be very powerful. You simply enter your own historic data and it starts to predict the season, which allows you to manage your marketing, spraying plans and weather, or decisions on whether or not to fertilise.
A real heavy weight in this space is Agworld, another WA app, but one with nearly 20,000 users, many of which are in the US. They’ve cut out a niche as a platform for agronomists to connect with growers. Both users can input data like soil tests, weather conditions and observations to improve recommendations and make seasonal plans. That and many other functions. They even have 14,000 products in their online library so you never need to hang on or fumble with old drum labels again.
As you can see there are a lot of options, functions, startups and established businesses offering farm management solutions. The trick is to understand exactly what problems you’re wanting to solve before you dig into solutions. But you don’t know what you don’t know, so chatting with their sales teams is always a good way to pull their solution apart.
Many of them offer trials too, and whilst that’s a good time to suck it and see, this feature is more a sales conversion tool for the business than it is for users to trial. Few people will leave after inputting the data and getting used to the tooling, even if it’s not quite right for them. They then flip into a paid user after the trial unless they opt out.
And of course, technology wouldn’t be technology without having features you didn’t think you needed, because you don’t. There are a few fancy brain farts from developers trying to make their dreams your reality, and as a result, features that are a far cry from moving your bottom line.
Speaking of bottom lines, the financial impact of farm management software for producers is sometimes difficult to quantify in the early days, but many of the above companies tell me they have a very low churn (that is customers leaving them).
That said, what you will find early on is that your mind will be, perhaps for the first time, less cluttered. It helps you organise, communicate and hand numbers, data, rates and records over to another system. And having a clear mind is priceless.
Sam Trethewey is from a farming family and has worked across Australia and overseas on most major commodities including beef, wool, lamb and cropping. He co-founded SproutX, Australia’s first and largest agtech accelerator and investment fund where he spent nearly three years developing an ecosystem of support for agtech startups. He has been a regular commentator on agriculture through print, radio and online and has recently started his own food production company whilst also working as Head of Brand for Redhanded, a rural and regional communications specialist.
Questions? If you’ve got an agtech topic you’d like Sam to tackle, please email firstname.lastname@example.org