Field records network offers regional insight
By John Dietz
The power of networking is coming to field management through software starting to be rolled out by the Farm Credit Corporation.
Canada’s largest agricultural lender has had two primary software packages for producers for more than a decade. As of 2011, a third package became available. Field Manager (FM) Commercial is tailored for the retailers who supply farm products.
“FM Commercial was introduced about three years ago to processors. We began offering it to retailers in the past year,” said Glen Kroeker, director, FCC management software, Regina. “It brings together information from a whole bunch of FM Pro users. Your group can have as many members as you want. It imports information and puts the key parts into a database they can use to develop benchmark criteria.”
In FM Pro, a grid of data is developed for every field with as much detail as the grower-manager has time and interest to enter. Like a trusty notebook, it can record the weather, the growing conditions, the weed conditions, the crop plan, the diseases, seed and chemical inputs, harvest records and even storage records, for every field on the farm. It can stack those records year –by year, bringing them forward as needed.
A grower, or his agronomist, can record detail such as plant density for the crop and for weeds, the seed lot number, and resistance issues for weeds and pests. They can record that X bushels from Field Y went into Bin XYZ and were shipped to customer ABC where they were accepted at a certain grain and dockage level.
Once he’s comfortable with FM Pro, a grower can examine data from several matching fields to gain management insight. Careful examination may answer some inevitable questions, such as “why did this happen on this field?”
FM Commercial takes that grid analysis ability one degree wider and one degree deeper. With permission, the retailer or processor can dump all the FM Pro records electronically into the FM Commercial software.
In theory, field records from several hundred growers across a region can be on the new grid. Now, with so much data, several layers of filters can be applied to gain a much richer insight.
Kroeker estimates that five to 10 agri-retailers in Western Canada purchased FM Commercial in 2011. They plan to begin offering it as part of their customer service packages.
Names will not be visible in the networked information, although any single member will be able to see the status of his inquiry in relation to all the others that fit the same group.
With the aid of the retailer’s agronomist, for instance, the individual may first see the standing of his average canola, then for a specific canola variety, then for his variety on a certain stubble or soil type, in comparison to all the others in the system.
The inquiry could compare a thousand fields on the wide-open canola grid average; when the filters are applied, it could be comparing results from just five to 25 fields that were nearly identical in variety, stubble, soil type and moisture supply.
It has a very practical use for variable rate application. Crop results from a field given a variable rate fertilizer treatment can be compared to similar fields in the area that were given conventional fertilizer treatments. It will be easy to see if the farm really gained any fertilizer efficiency.
“The strength is that it gives some really localized information,” said Kroeker. “It’s quite easy to get global information, and hard to get localized information. This is a tool that a retailer could use to develop really good information.”
Redfern Farm Supply, serving western Manitoba, is one of the first farm retailers to start using FM Commercial.
“We’re after the ability to compare results from one customer against results from their peers,” said Ted Moir, Redfern operations manager, Brandon.
FM Pro is high on the agenda. This winter, Moir said, Redfern will offer training to customers who want to start using FM Pro for their own farms. Cost of the training, and software, will be offset by funding through a MAFRI program.
“FM Pro is for any size farm. It will help any producer improve. There will be ah-hah moments whether you’re just tracking your own records or whether you’re involved in the FM Commercial comparative analysis.”
Customers, and agronomists, will be putting field records into the FM Pro data grid. Once the information is standardized, it can be exported into the larger FM Commercial software owned by Redfern.
“We’re going to run the data analysis and produce reports by whatever parameters we put in,” Moir said. “If our customer is in the middle of the pile, we can say ‘you’re average.’ Maybe we can fine-tune his fertility program, or maybe we can identify limiting factors. “
Ray Redfern, owner-president of the company, said the integrated and highly detailed FCC software amounts to providing benchmarking for farmers who may never sit around the same table.
“Users with similar interests agree to provide their data to be used in a confidential way, so they can find out how they compare. The data from the rest of the group won’t have any names attached. It has to be impartial. This gets past all the coffee shop hyperbole,” Redfern said. “Whoever takes part will find the really solid numbers.”
The FCC upgrades farming software each year, said Moir. Fifty or more changes can be expected for the 2012 products, including introduction of features related to GIS and simplified record entry.
“The FCC has been excellent to work with,” Moir said. “They have taken several of our ideas – such as plant stand and weed severity density – into the FM Pro program, and they continue to look for information that is relevant to agronomists and producers.”
Several companies across Western Canada are in the early stages of launching FM Commercial. More information can be obtained through local FCC offices. Assistance with training and software may be available through provincial departments of agriculture.