Diversified organic farmers must contend with many unique challenges – rapidly changing markets, unpredictable weather events, and the complexity of working with rather than against ecology, to name just a few. But of all the difficulties organic farmers face, one of the most daunting might just be…paperwork. Record-keeping, while almost as essential to successful farming as seeds and tools are, is usually time consuming and, frankly, a pain. And when organic certification inspection time comes, many farmers end up wishing they had done a better job of it. Being able to account for all the inputs used on the farm is just one component of a remarkable new tool developed specifically for organic farmers – AgSquared.
AgSquared is a new software program to help organic farmers with everything from farm planning to everyday operations to record-keeping to the organic certification process. It features attractive, user-friendly interfaces for desktop computers and tablets, with smartphone features coming soon. The software is cloud-based, so all your records go where you do, and if your office floods or your computer gets stolen, all of your carefully gathered data remains safe.
Testing AgSquared at Primrose Valley Farm
Longtime High Mowing customers David and Jamie Baker of Primrose Valley Farm in Wisconsin were among the first beta-testers of the software, and have been using it to keep their farm organized ever since. Primrose Valley Farm is an 83 acre certified organic farm located in the “Driftless region” of South Central Wisconsin. The Bakers grow about 75 varieties of fruits and vegetables each year and market their produce to restaurants, through their farm stand and to CSA customers in Madison and Chicago. David and Jamie talked to us about how they use AgSquared and how it has been working for them.
Like most farmers, David and Jamie were initially using spreadsheets to manage their data. However, they soon realized they needed a database to keep track of details from year to year. Since they had both worked in the technology industry, they thought about building their own, but shortly afterward learned about AgSquared. David met Jeff Gordon (a plant breeder) and Giulia Stellari (a plant biologist), the founders of AgSquared, while working at the University of Wisconsin. Part of the reason they decided to try the software is because it’s built specifically for small and mid-sized farms like theirs. They told us, “[Jeff and Giulia] don’t assume what farmers need, they actively engage farmers to determine their needs and how they can best provide the desired functions and features, and it’s not just one farmer’s perspective. They look to many farms of various sizes and types of operations for their input. It’s because of this holistic approach in the product development stage that results in the rich functionality of the software and makes it so notable.”
Crop Database & Calendar
Since AgSquared builds a database from the information you put into it, you can start using it any time. According to David and Jamie, “We began experimenting with the software during the tail end of a season becoming familiar with its capabilities. After becoming familiar with the product and how we wanted to implement it on our farm we then spent the off-season winter months populating it with our data and entering our plans for the upcoming season. You can begin using AgSquared at any time and enter your information as you go. You can start with one area and then build on over time.”
Essentially, the software operates much like a calendar. You can schedule tasks, such as seeding carrots, and assign those tasks to particular employees as well as particular fields on a map of your farm. You can print out a schedule of all the tasks that need to be done in a day, and enter the amount of time they took once they’re done. One of the biggest perks is that you can use dependencies to keep your schedule organized. So for your carrot bed, you can schedule a thinning task that takes place 3 weeks after sowing. Now let’s say there’s a flooding event, and carrot seeding has to be put off for two weeks – all the tasks that are dependent on the first task, sowing carrots, get moved down two weeks automatically when you change the sowing date. You can enter notes like “don’t seed early carrots in the floodplain!” anywhere in the software, and every task, input, and harvest quantity is saved as a searchable record that you can reference when making your crop plans next year.
AgSquared for Organic Certification
AgSquared has many features that can help with maintaining your organic certification. For example, your crops can be linked to a map of your farm so you know what, when, and how much was planted, but where it was planted as well. This makes planning your crop rotations (and showing them to an inspector) a piece of cake. And when you have 75 different crops growing at different times throughout the season, as David and Jamie do, determining optimal crop rotations for minimizing pest and disease pressure can feel like solving a Rubik’s cube. Remembering how much of various inputs were used where and when can be a major challenge too – but with AgSquared, as long as you make a to-do list at the beginning of each day, that information is safely stored until inspection time comes.
According to David and Jamie, “Organic certification requires tracking and reporting of a great deal of information. Through the use of AgSquared we are able to provide full traceability and all the history related to crop production. From the lot number of the seed stock used, seeding data, transplant data, cultivation, inputs used, harvest and pack house data, field location as well as related crewmember activity and ultimately distribution data inclusive of lot numbers. At each of our certification inspections the certifier is always impressed with the completeness and the ease with which we are able to provide them with the requested information.”
Cost Tracking & Profitability
The app can also help you track long and short-term profitability and manage time by recording how many people it took to do each activity, and how long each project took. For example, with AgSquared’s new cost tracking features you can keep track of how many cases of eggplant were sold and for what price, and you can quickly and easily determine that with all the costs of laying black plastic, transplanting, weeding, irrigating, fertilizing, and harvesting – eggplant is actually not a profitable crop for you. According to David and Jamie, “AgSquared Plus contains extraordinary capabilities related to resource management and cost tracking tools. This new feature set will provide us the ability to track crop specific profitability and better manage the farms inventories.” AgSquared makes one of the historical challenges to farmers – knowing what is profitable to grow – a thing of the past.
And now down to the brass tacks: as every successful farmer knows, you don’t want to go out and buy every shiny new tool that hits the market, and the same goes for software. However, this is one tool that can make the others work more effectively. According to David and Jamie, “I would definitely recommend and have recommended the software to other farmers. In my research I didn’t find any software that was comparable to AgSquared in accomplishing the goals that we had in managing our farm and the associated data.”
Win a Copy of AgSquared!
Since Jeff Gordon and Giulia Stellari care deeply about the success of America’s farms, they provide AgSquared to users at a fair price. The software is free to use for the first 30 days, or forever with less than 10 crop plantings, and no credit card is required at sign up.
They’re offering a 10% discount to you just for reading this – use offer code 2014HMSPROMO, good through 5/31/14, at checkout on their website.
Finally, they’ve partnered with High Mowing to give away a one year AgSquared Basic subscription to a lucky winner! Just go to this specific Facebook post and “like” it to be entered to win. Winner will be chosen at random on June 6th, 2014. (This contest is now over.)
Official Contest Rules:
**One entry per Facebook user. Winner will be selected randomly. Contest ends June 6th, 2014 at 1pm. This contest is not associated with Facebook in any way.*