Purchasing farm software is a major decision for fruit, vegetable, grain, and shell fish farmers. Use the Farm Software Checklist below to help you make the best purchasing decision for your farm. The farm software checklist items below are listed in no particular order.
Most farm software solutions contain the basic features necessary to manage day to day operations such as spray, fertilize, planting, harvesting, chipping, and more. However, it is very important to note that every farm has different requirements – when short listing your farm software solution, ensure you choose only farm software that has extensive features. This ensures the features you require both now and in the future are available. Remember, most farm software solutions will allow you to disable/hide any features you don’t wish to use at the moment – this makes the farm software interface simpler for users that don’t have a lot of technology experience.
Being overly price sensitive when purchasing farm software is usually more expensive than purchasing a system that has more features than your farm requires (USDA).
Flexibility and Configuration Tools
No two farms are the same, so be sure your farm software has a comprehensive set of tools or settings that will allow the software to be rapidly tailored and tweaked to suit your requirements. This will allow the solution to be modified at no cost to your farm. The ability to add new user defined fields from a control panel or configuration module is ver important to ensure your farm solution is suitable both now and in the future.
Mature Software, with Ongoing Development
Don’t buy a farm software solution that is less than two or three years old. It takes years to iron out the bugs in professional software, and years of feedback from clients ensures a quality product. Be sure your farm software vendor has a development team that provides regular updates, at least three or four per year. Regular updates to your farm software is very important to ensure that changes in the farming industry are reflected in your farm management software.
Farm, Site, and User Permissions
User permissions allow you to control which employees can access selected data, and advanced systems will even allow you to specify read, create, edit, delete, and view permissions. These are important to ensure the correct employees see only the information they require for their duties, maintaining a high level of farm security. Some farm software solutions allow you to specify farms, and sites, you can then assign employees to each (one or more) site, allowing management to view the operations of many farms from head office, however, employees at one particular farm will only see the operations at their own farm.
Cloud and Local Installation Options
Cloud solutions allow your farm to bypass the need to provide your own server. The cloud solution allows you to use your farm solution from any device that is connected to the internet. Using a cloud solution also means you will not have to administrate your own server, and provide backup services. Alternatively, some farms may need to consider a lack of internet, so a local installation on your own server would be required. Local installations of farm software are also required by some companies privacy policies. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons for your requirements in relation to Cloud and Local Installations, as it is often difficult or expensive to change once a solution is implemented.
Traceability refers to easy tracking of all farming inputs such as fertilizer, wetters, spreaders, and any other chemical or consumable. Quality farming software should allow you to capture the traceability information easily during natural business processes. This reduces the cost of data capture, and also ensures in the unlikely event you will have to recall fresh produce, you can minimize the quality that has to be recalled by having a highly accurate traceability system. During audits, a traceability system can be used to speed up the audit process and pass audits with ease. Quality farm management software should also help to reduce the cost of compliance.
Quality Control Tools
Smaller farms don’t usually have the scale to support the use of quality control tools, however, medium to large farms, or those exposed to very high quality requirements by clients will need them. Automating quality control will reduce compliance costs and make audits easier. When assessing a quality control module, look for the following features:
- Flexible configuration of specialized quality control programs, allowing creation of quality control for different clients
- Ability to specify any subject that is the target of the quality control program
- Flexible quality control criteria, allowing creation of unlimited categorized quality control criteria
- Quality control criteria that allows for multiple test types such as yes/no, pass/fail, range checking (eg: value must be a number between two predefined numbers), visual inspection etc.
- Instructional features: your quality control solution should guide quality officers through the testing process, this requires the ability to store documents and images and present them to the quality officer during the testing process (this ensures quality control officers have the knowledge they need at their fingertips at all times. For example, if testing for sun-burnt grapes, the system should present an image of sun-burnt grapes to the user)
- Alerts: Some farms may require an alert system to alert multiple levels of management or chosen employees if a quality control test fails.
Best Practice Enforcement
Every farm has different best practices, and using farm software to enforce best practices makes sense if you implement farm software that includes these features:
- Users can configure the materials, labor, equipment and time required for the production of each variety of fresh produce – allowing the automatic creation of the tasks required for each variety and showing estimates of inventory, employee, and equipment use.
- The correct work/tests/tasks are performed at the correct time
- No task or work is forgotten
- Tasks can be automatically planned in advance (in a select few advanced farm systems)
- The solution should enforce correct recording of tracebability and food safety data at all times
- Users should be alerted or presented with tasks to allow planning of teams
- Planning of materials such as inventory, equipment, and other items can be arranged using advanced planning based on the best practice
- Some farms require a solution to send alerts to employees and or management if a task is overdue or late
Monitoring & Task Delegation
Depending on the size of your farm, you may require a method of delegating tasks to teams or individual employees, and a method of monitoring the progress of the farm tasks. Some farm solutions present this data via visual format (similar to a calendar) or provide it in tabular format. This information can be used by employees to plan their time and by management to monitor progress and reassign tasks to different dates or times based on workload.
Using your farming software from devices such as iPhone, Android, tablets, PC’s, and Macs gives you the easiest access to your solution at any time, from any device, and any location. This also future proofs your farm, so you can replace your PC’s with Macs, or allow farm staff to start using their own smart phones or company provided tablets to view their tasks or record progress and inventory use.