Published January 1, 1997 | January 1997 issue
From small farms to agribusiness companies, farmers are beginning to use computer software packages to help manage their land.
A search on the Internet reveals at least a dozen companies that provide farm management tools to help farmers keep records on such things as planting times and fertilizer applications. With historical records, farmers can analyze how certain practices influence production and determine the cost and return of individual fields, according to Dave Schuler, vice president of software at Crop Growers Software Inc. in Great Falls.
Keeping sophisticated records is new ground for farmers, Schuler says. Although many farmers use computers for general accounting, under 5 percent use software packages for more complex record keeping. "All farmers keep some records, but very few keep comprehensive records." Schuler says. "Farmers are becoming more aware that they need to keep track of records to do analysis."
The growing number of agricultural software packages has heightened awareness about the benefits of management systems. For example, Crop Growers' VisAg, provides record keeping tools and detailed maps of farms. When customers open their software, they see a field map of their land and the surrounding area, including roads, rivers and utilities. The maps allow users to update data and can be printed to guide employees in their tasks on the farm.
"We designed the program so users simply point and click on buttons and fill in a few boxes," Little says. Users select items from menus to create a report, such as the amount of fertilizer applied on a field over a period of time. Visag also provides a storehouse of regulations and USDA certification forms.
Competition among software companies is good, says Mark Little, a software developer at Crop Growers and instructor of Geographic Information Systems at Montana State University, Bozeman. "It's good to have more people selling the concept. Once farmers buy the concept, it's a question of selling the product."