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Farm management simplified

Due to a new farm management software program, Steve Reinbold should have more time to spend with his wife, Melinda, and their two young children. Evenings are free from paperwork because he sends information from his smartphone throughout the day to FarmLogs software.

Accurate records are important to Reinbold, his brother, Dan, and his uncle, Mike, who operate Reinbold Organic Farms, a 2,000-acre operation of organic corn, seed corn, black beans, green beans, soybeans, and wheat near Caro, Michigan.

“Record keeping is so intense for organic production. I was basically jotting stuff down through the day and transferring it to spreadsheets I made up. It takes a lot of time,” he says. “I’ve looked into other software, but it didn’t really seem to fit for what we were doing. This seems pretty darn good.”

Creating software specific to farmers’ needs is exactly what FarmLogs founders Jesse Vollmar and Brad Koch had in mind. Both have connections to farming in Michigan’s thumb region, and both were fascinated by technology. In high school, they won national competitions in building websites, and they started a company before they graduated.

Within five years, they were running a successful business developing software and setting up networks for clients.

“We worked in other industries helping small businesses become more profitable. Technology has transformed industries, but we believed farming hadn’t been transformed yet,” Vollmar says. “Having the farm and software connections, we decided we were perfect to work through this problem.”

The partners closed their business and temporarily moved to Silicon Valley when they were accepted into a prestigious accelerator program that included four months of training and seed funding to start FarmLogs in 2012.

“We decided this is something we felt called to do – to create a worldwide software company that focuses on farming,” Vollmar says.

Truly user-friendly

Reinbold installed the program last winter and found it easy to understand and navigate.

Making user-friendly software is a top priority, Vollmar says. Farmers said they tried other software, then paid for classes to learn how to use it and ended up not using it anyway.

“Good software shouldn’t need classes,” he says. “It should just make sense intuitively, because the designers put in the hard work to simplify complex problems.”

As he pulls up the calendar on his computer screen, Reinbold says, “I’m inputting pretty much every day.” He can click on any date and see what and how many acres were planted or cultivated, which tractor and operator worked what fields, and any other notes he’s added.

Bonuses

With a click of the mouse, Reinbold brings up a page that shows maps of all his fields.

“I went around and traced them all. When I click on them, it tells what’s in there and the number of acres,” he says. “I input all our tract numbers and farm numbers. It’s always cumbersome to go through the maps and make sure all the farm fields and numbers match with the acres. It should be a lot easier to certify this year for FSA, because it will have everything on the report instead of going through all my sheets.”

It will be extra helpful for organic certification, which is especially rigorous, because every bag of seed and input must be accounted for at an annual inspection.

FarmLogs isn’t just data entry. Clicking on a field includes eight years of crop history, plus county average data. Besides being useful to you, it’s information that’s easily shared with an agronomist, banker, or crop insurance agent.

With FarmLogs analyzing the data, you can see how much is spent – and netted – on individual fields.

Precipitation

With 2,000 acres of fields scattered around the area, keeping track of rainfall in each field once meant checking rain gauges. Now, Reinbold goes to FarmLogs to see how much rain each field received to schedule jobs such as cultivating.

“We have heavy clay ground, so we can’t work it when it’s too wet,” he says. “This helps tell me what the conditions are and which fields can be worked first.”

He can also see eight years of rainfall history for each field and a five-year average. “You can trend the current growing season to help estimate crop quality and yield,” Vollmar adds. “We don’t estimate yield yet, but we are really close. The rainfall and timing of the rain will factor into the estimate.”

Reinbold is especially interested in yield estimates to help determine which size bins work best for each crop and how much he needs to sell before a new crop comes off. Yield estimate was one of the things he suggested that FarmLogs add.

Collaboration

“We haven’t built the perfect software,” Vollmar says. “We ask farmers to help us. They guide us and push us forward. I look at it as a collaborative mission.”

For example, at customers’ requests, FarmLogs added maintenance records with icons for each piece of equipment.

FarmLogs plans to add a new inventory analysis feature to help farmers hit marketing goals during fall harvest.

“We collect information from all over the country, getting cash bids from every elevator,” Vollmar says. “Customers see the nearest five elevators, plus the Chicago Board of Trade.”

Still evolving

CEO Vollmar admits FarmLogs software for row-crop farmers will never be finished. It will always evolve with ideas from farmers and new technology.

In the near future, for example, Reinbold and other customers won’t even have to input some data. Their tractors and equipment will do it for them through inexpensive IsoBlue hardware that automatically transfers information to FarmLogs records.

It is another handy feature for reducing paperwork and for providing accurate information to help make smarter decisions.

Reinbold says it will greatly shorten the time it takes him to gather data for organic certification, but FarmLogs is a good fit for any row-crop farmer.

“Producers should keep track of what they are doing. It’s a benefit to any farm operation,” he says.

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