The Benefits of Using a Farm-Management Information System
When Paul Overby returned to his family’s North Dakota farm in 1993, he realized his operation would need a good set of records in order to manage the nearly 1,800 acres it covered.
“I had my own computer and spreadsheet software, and I’d been using Money Counts for personal budget and finance,” he says. “I adapted MC to farming by creating suitable accounts, and it worked reasonably well.”
Because the software only tracked financials, a separate program generated spreadsheets on field activities. “I usually had to reformat the numbers for the banker and tax accountant,” Overby recalls. “It bothered me that I was flipping between all of those sheets, constantly reentering numbers, and creating possibilities for error – not to mention the time I was wasting!”
He also used FinPack for enterprise analysis, but it meant yet another transfer of data. “It could also handle field enterprising, but the record-keeping systems I was using made it difficult to compile the information,” says Overby. “I developed some hand-entered field record sheets, which made for an impressive stack of paper, but I was just pulling generalities out of it to get reasonable numbers into FinPack. The numbers never did add up, but it was good enough!”
moving beyond good enough
By the mid-1990s, Overby began researching single solutions to move beyond good enough. Programs considered included PC Mars, Red Wing, Farm Works, Quick Books, and EZ Farm. As he evaluated each one, cost was key. “I don’t have a large operation, and the software was expensive enough that I considered it an investment.”
Ultimately, he purchased Farm Works (known as Trimble Ag Software today) since, at the time, it was the only system integrating financial and field-level records. For the first few years, he still hand-wrote field records to add to Farm Works. “Procrastination meant they often didn’t get entered until winter, and it was a pretty big task,” Overby says.
Another investment in Farm Trac Mate and an HP iPAQ allowed him to enter records in the field and sync them to Farm Works, which led to much greater success in getting records done.
In 2004, he started using satellite imagery to develop zone maps. “I downloaded the zones created on SatShot into Farm Works and using the transparency tool, I hand-drew zones for my fields,” he says. “Because I now had to soil-test the zones and VRA nitrogen, I upgraded to Farm Site Mate, the mobile version of mapping for iPAQ. I also bought a Raven receiver and added Guide Mate so I had a lightbar on my iPAQ.”
For the past 10 years, zone management and soil testing have been a big part of the operation. “I see a good return in reduced costs without impacting yields with this process,” Overby says.
Having the crop history at his fingertips also makes planning his diverse rotation easy. “I can start building my desired enterprises and adjust a crop until I balance my financial and agronomic goals,” he says.
While North Dakota has avoided some of the weed-resistance issues, the software has been an asset as weeds like kochia become a problem. “Being able to look back and see what herbicide or mode of action was used is helpful,” Overby says. “Some of that also guides the crop-rotation planning.”
It has also simplified how yield reports as well as the ones for FSA and crop insurance are generated. Trimble Ag Software makes completing the balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow reports for the banker less complicated.
“I have been using this system for nearly 25 years. It can still be a challenge in the pressure of getting things done, but it has to be a priority for everyone,” he says. “I can’t prove what I am doing is effective unless I can see the profitability based on inputs and yield.”