The technological changes that have altered the way farms operate are innumerable at this point. We can talk about innovations in crop genetics and pest management through understanding germplasms and marker-assisted breeding to maximize yields, produce taste, weather resistance, herbicide tolerance, and pest resistance; or how mechanizationhas allowed farmers to cut land used in agriculture by 3%, hired labor by 30%, and operator labor by 40% while increasing output by nearly 50%; maybe even how big data analytics have allowed for better crop yield predictions, agriculture automation, and a better understanding of your farms affect on the environment. All these things are revolutionary pieces to any modern farm, but they’re all just pieces of the puzzle they help put together: Farm management, more specifically the tools that help farms optimize their operations.
Farm management is simply the making and implementing of the decisions involved in organizing and operating a farm for maximum production and profit; Farm management software (FMS) is the mix of digital tools that automate business management, record keeping and accounting for farms and agribusiness.
Unfortunately, there are few resources to learn what farm management software is all about - so few I couldn’t find anything worth linking to in the previous paragraph. That in mind, we at Native are taking it upon ourselves to put together a quick guide to the capabilities of FMS & the ROI of implementing it into your farm's operations!
Moving forward, we’ll be tackling this topic by breaking it into two categories: Pre-harvest (the activities revolving around raw materials, such as planting seeds, transplanting post-sprouted, tracking the grow process, etc) and post-harvest (the activities involved around inventory, orders, customers, reporting, etc). That said, let’s dive into the innovative, life-changing advancement that is FMS, broken down by the categories we’ve found to be most impactful.
Imagine the beginning of planting season. There's a series of questions you probably ask yourself: “What do I want to grow this season?”, “What suppliers are best to source my seeds from?”, “How expensive are those seeds?”, “Which zones on my land have the ideal conditions to have a high yield rate?”. These are the questions, among thousands I’m sure, and many of them revolve around the crux of FMS’ pre-harvest purpose: Crop planning. Given that, it makes sense to have a system that can in real time report back answers on every question you have, as soon as something happens (what we’ll refer to as “real-time updates” from now on). There are several ways FMS helps provide answers to your pre-harvest question list so let’s dive a bit deeper into how it accomplishes this!
First off, you’ve got to understand all specifics of your products, down to the type of product, descriptions of what it is, its shelf life, product unit measures, and prices for each product package. A good FMS system should grant farmers easy input of all this information, with equally seamless editing if things change in the future, with those changes being reflected in all other areas that product lives instantly. We’ve found each of these items help farmers view a holistic overview of what they’re growing & the form it’ll be presented to the end consumer.
Beyond the basics, it should also allow for inputs around categorization (greens, vegetables, fruits, etc), the estimated grow time, perhaps even pictures reflecting the product growth cycle for the end consumer - more on this can be found in another one of our articles.
Why use FMS product tools?
With this information piped in, you now have a full product report of every offering you plan to sell, with the ability to quickly add new or edit old offerings. These tools give a farmer quick & easy access to information on the ins and outs of their products, as well as control over a user-created experience end consumers can get from those offerings. Beyond the product information stored, the tools grant farmers the following:
Dynamic reporting on products available based on inventory instantly vs mental math or excel validation inputting
Real-time updates on remaining shelf-life in harvesting & inventory vs manual recall
Standardized product units across all tools of FMS vs excel validations to prevent faulty inputs or general recall of unit measure
Drill down of product categories
Now that you’ve established a baseline for your product offerings, we can move into the planning of how you'll create those killer products with our crop planning tools.
With any business, planning ahead is just as pivotal as the actual execution - farming is no different, and FMS recognizes that. Crop planning helps farmers visualize how much land they’ll need, the expected yield rate, revenue & profit forecasting, and much more before they even plant one seed. Given the breadth within the category, and each farm's different crop planning activities, a good FMS will have several focuses within. For the sake of keeping this article a humane length, we’ll focus on two we’ve found to be the most important:
The primary use case for a farmer using these tools would be to have a full understanding & history of your suppliers: Who are you buying from, when did you make the purchases, what are the individual lots from the same supplier, how many seeds did you buy, the whole nine yards. With FMS like Native’s you can go further, exploring the price per seed, expected germination percentages, and even the amount yielded per seed.
Why use FMS seed management tools?
All of this information culminates in a full report of your seeds. As a whole, FMS’ seed management functionality empower farmers to better reference the sources of their product seeds, the # of seeds purchased & in inventory, dates of purchases, price per seed, expected germination percentage, and the amount of product yielded per seed, updated in real-time. This grants farmers many abilities static data entry tools like excel or pen-and-paper don’t, such as the following:
Piping old purchase information from previous buys vs re-entering info
Dynamic calculations of inventory and profit potential vs manual calculation or through functions
One-click drill-downs of specific information vs excel functions or searching manually
What we usually see is a mix of measuring planting by seeds or by products. Some farmers may want their planting information centered around their seed inventory (selecting which seed supplier plantings will come from, how many seeds will be planted in a grow zone, etc) and others may want their plantings centered around their products (product being planted, # of planting units, etc). Either way should be supported to give your farm ultimate flexibility in their planting process, as well as for potential agility in farm growth & the changes that come with it down the line. Within the way you track your plantings comes numerous additions in functionality - invalid data entry protection, planting zone tracking, traceability of seed or product sourcing, even custom input fields unique to your operation, among many. For more information specific to your farm's needs, be sure to reach out to Native so we can discuss!
Other important information we’ve found farmers want for their plantings are the date of their plantings, the ability to save repeated plants so information doesn't have to be repeatedly entered, even creating QR codes for product packaging - feel free to reach out to me about this revolutionary development or click here for more information.
Why use FMS planting tools?
Planting tools give a farmer an easy way to manage their plantings, track grow cycles, and ensure their growth operations are running seamlessly. This data empowers farms of all sizes to optimize grow zones, easily track and isolate seeds or plantings for any reason (recalls, yield rates, seed fraud, germination R&D, etc.), and grants the flexibility for uses beyond the scope templated out. Here are just a few benefits of Planting FMS over non-FMS tools:
Dynamic validation of seed inventory when planting to prevent invalid entries vs manual validation protection in excel or static pen-and-paper records
Custom field generation for non-standard operation fields with dynamism vs excel programming or static custom tracking systems
One-click agility between planting management styles (seed or product-based) vs reworking entire system manually
QR code tracking for plantings, grow zones, and consumer-facing engagement
Alright, with the last few categories and tools, we’ve completed pre-harvest activities: product offerings have been planned, seeds have been purchased, and our products is now in their places completing their growth cycles. Once the pre-harvest ends, we begin post-harvest activities, and the amount of tasks needed doesn’t drop off - neither should your FMS' capabilities. While pre-harvest focuses on the farming side, post-harvest focuses on the business side - finished goods need to be accounted for, orders processed, customers chronicled, and your system should be equally equipped to handle these activities as well as those conducted prior.
While some have pre- and post-harvest activities separated, many sources have found keeping all data synchronized in the same place has increased data convenience, collaboration, and accessibility for their businesses. These are among the many reasons info from both activity categories should be kept in the same system.
Post-harvest activities can vary between farms, but here are functionalities we’ve noticed almost all farms need out of a FMS to keep their post-harvest in order.
When tracking inventory, there are numerous questions that need to be answered. Which products have I harvested? How many? How many do I have left? Were any wasted? What days were these harvested? Good FMS should give you the functionality to easily answer all these questions, with minimal manual input needed. This is where the utility of having pre- and post-harvest info in the same place comes into play: harvest information flows seamlessly downstream into inventory. Instead of having to duplicate information, constantly ensuring the numbers add up across two disconnected systems, numbers pipe in automatically, ensuring data validity and decreasing labor on your end. This information can include inventory ID, amount harvested, harvest date, products wasted, alerts on expiring produce, etc.
Other information beyond harvesting and general product details may be important to your farm as well. Perhaps you want to note the USDA-grade your produce is, or input the cost of goods sold, or calculate the inventory packaging measurements (how many go into each package). With a FMS system, functionality like this is readily available, with minimal effort for data entry or building it out manually.
Why use FMS inventory tools?
Inventory may be one of the most critical pieces in any farm’s operations. A solid grasp of your inventory is the difference between great consumer experiences, high-profit margins, and an overall efficient operation vs poor products hitting the shelves, other products going bad while in inventory, and operating a loss - cutting corners here isn’t the way to go. Here are some benefits for FMS inventory tools vs non-FMS tools:
Seamless downstream updates from pre-harvest data vs manual inputs
Dynamic alerts on products close to expiration based on shelf life
Inventory waste inputs for detailed internal reporting
Real-time updates whenever sales are made to eliminate overselling
We've said it before, we’ll say it again: managing your farm's inventory with excel spreadsheets is not the way to go. A growing farm needs dynamic systems that link their orders with an inventory. We mentioned assuring delivering on promises being a huge driver of customer loyalty - selling 125 apples when you only have 110 in inventory isn’t the way to go about that. That’s why FMS systems create checks-and-balances on orders that exceed inventory - you can’t sell more than you have in stock. In addition, given inventory updates with each order in real-time, if you close a sale a few moments after someone else, inventory will reflect that change instantly, whereas a system revolving around manual inputs wouldn’t until the first sale was chronicled.
Beyond maximizing order fulfillment, a good FMS can allow for a better understanding of your transactions. For example, it can allow you to track recurring orders instead of manually inputting repeated orders each time, track donated items for tax purposes, adding & tracking any additional charges not usually included, and creating custom notes on orders for future reference.
Why use FMS order tools?
Orders are the biggest revenue-generating activity at any farm, so having the best tools to track, monitor, and fulfill them is a no-brainer. Cutting corners in this arena is a sure-fire way to cut top-line revenues and bottom-line profit in no time. Here are a few benefits of FMS ordering tools vs other systems:
Real-time inventory data pulling for order fulfillment vs manual inputs
Easy custom charge additions
ntuitive layout for order quantity, price, and details vs manual order form building
Integrations with POS and accounting platforms
Speaking of customers, having their information on file is pretty darn important. This section is pretty self-explanatory - you have customers, you want to know who they are, how to contact them, and the specifics of the order deliveries. FMS systems aim to keep this information in-house with the other tools rather than having this housed in an independent CRM or contact list.
Why use FMS customer tools?
While customer information may be less dynamic than the other activities mentioned, having info relevant to your farm in the same place eliminates much of the hassle two storing locations can bring. Some of the benefits of keeping this information within FMS systems:
Quicker referencing of customer information
Easily updatable customer profiles
Seamless additions to customer lists
Pricing is quite varied - certain customers negotiate certain prices. Having to navigate that for every single purchase, especially repeat business, can be a hassle - why bother when you can use FMS to cut down the time significantly while simultaneously minimizing errors? Good FMS software allows for customer-specific pricing, saving you time by saving pricing information for each unique customer and product. You can also create special rules around bulk pricing (10% for 10 lbs, 20% for 20 lbs, etc.) to ensure consistency on widely available discounts. These among many features give your farm pricing autonomy with minimal effort beyond the initial set-up.
Why use FMS pricing tools?
Keeping your pricing information consistent with each customer is essential. Having this information in the same place as the rest is convenient. You put those two values together, you get a quality FMS pricing system. Here are a few benefits of these tools vs non-FMS tools:
Direct connectivity to orders and customer information with complex reference functions and formulas
Syncing to product offering lists within internal systems
Consistent pricing information for unique customer invoicing
The last drastically important piece we’ve found from almost all farms is reporting functionality. In any business, you need to understand where you stand on your financials - given most of us don’t have Ivy league statistics degrees, making that information as intuitive as possible is a necessity. Your farm may want reports on orders going out within a certain range of dates, metrics on harvest data, a breakdown of planting events, the list goes on. A good FMS system not only gives you the functionality to conduct these activities, it also can take that information & create reports.
Why use FMS reporting tools?
The use cases of reporting data for a farm of any size are numerous. Whether tracking orders going out the last month of harvest, a deep dive into sales for the season, checking variances in harvesting metrics, reviewing planting reports, having these tools is key to getting a 360 review of where your farm stands. A few benefits of FMS reporting vs non-FMS reporting:
Direct data pulling from internal data vs external systems having to integrate
Downloadable excel sheets with reporting data
Potential reporting custom building
Other factors to consider
While the specifics of what you want to track is the biggest decider of the FMS you’ll need, there are several factors beyond that worth considering.
Let’s be honest: FMS can be expensive. While studies have shown FMS pays for itself in the long run, making that spend upfront may be too much for some operations. Find someone who can walk you through the costs of buying FMS, or talk to us about what tools best suit your budget.
A sometimes overlooked factor in the cost of software is the amount of users you’ll have operating it. With each user, a new seat must be made; each seat raises the price of the software. Consider the parties at your farm who actually need to use it consistently: lower this number as much as possible, and you’ll see the price of FMS shrink considerably.
A small holding farm vs a 2,500 acre greenhouse are very different operations. Make sure what you’re purchasing is designed for the capacity your farm is outputting - and has the capacity itself to grow with you.
Let's get down to business!
Despite the length of this piece, this is but a surface-level look at what FMS can do for farms of all sizes and markets. For information on what your farm specifically needs, we recommend a one-on-one conversation for a detailed breakdown; shoot us over an email, we'd love to help you in any aspect!